Circuit Judge Gael Wood apologized Monday for failing to reach a sentencing decision in the case of a Pacific man who murdered and mutilated his girlfriend in 2009.
In February, a Franklin County jury found Vernell Loggins Jr., 39, guilty of first-degree murder and armed criminal action and recommended that he be executed for the crime.
Judge Wood could follow the jury’s recommendation or sentence Loggins to life in prison with no chance of parole, but has put off making a decision for almost four months as he wrestles with the case.
He apologized for the delay specifically to the victim’s family, the defendant’s family and the defendant.
“I have not decided what to do on sentencing,” Wood said in court, adding that “there are a great number of factual and legal considerations that must be resolved before making a decision of this gravity.”
The judge did not set a new date for the sentencing hearing and instead said he would ask attorneys on both sides to file additional memoranda in the case. He set a tentative date of July 15 for attorneys to submit the documents.
“We will reconvene at a date to be announced when I have the memoranda before me and have had a chance to review them further,” Judge Wood said.
“I assure you I did not make this decision lightly. I hope you all understand this is done because when this is finished I want to know in my heart that the right thing has been done for all concerned,” he told those in the courtroom.
Otherwise no date has been set for formal sentencing.
Sentencing had been set for April 17, but Judge Wood continued the case to May 21 and directed attorneys on both sides to submit briefs over concerns raised by a Missouri Supreme Court judge in a 1988 death sentence case.
Loggins remains in the county jail while awaiting sentencing.
Authorities said Loggins stabbed Fields 25 times, then cut off her head and hands, placed them in a plastic bag and threw them in the Meramec River east of Eureka. Searchers later found the bag containing the head and hands where it had washed up on the riverbank.
Maintenance workers at the Monroe Woods apartment discovered Fields’ body Nov. 3, 2009, in a plastic trash can that had been placed near a dumpster.
The St. Louis Area Major Case Squad was activated shortly after Fields’ body was found in the trash can and within hours had identified Loggins as a key suspect. When investigators entered the apartment they found a “substantial amount of blood” along with pieces of skin and other tissue.
The last time a defendant in a Franklin County murder case was executed was Aug. 31, 1990. It was nine years after the defendant was tried and found guilty.