A Franklin County judge has approved a motion for a gag order in the case of man accused of murdering and dismembering a woman last week at a Pacific apartment complex.
Vernell J. Loggins Jr., 37, 21 Monroe Woods, is charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the death of Stephanie M. Fields, 26, of Pacific. He is being held in the Franklin County Jail on a $1 million bond.
Following a hearing last Thursday, Associate Circuit Judge Dave Hoven took the motion, filed by Lisa Preddy of the public defender's office, under advisement. He issued the order Friday.
Loggins is accused of stabbing Fields multiple times and then cutting up her body and attempting to dispose of it by dumping it in the trash.
Authorities allege that Loggins murdered Fields either Sunday or Monday, Nov. 1 or 2. The body was discovered Tuesday, Nov. 3, in a large plastic trash can at the Monroe Woods apartment complex in Pacific.
Thursday, Nov. 5, investigators found the victim's head and hands in a plastic bag on the shore of the Meramec River east of Eureka.
In his order, Judge Hoven called it a "difficult issue" and noted that he "recognizes the conflict between the public's right to know, freedom of expression and the right of a defendant in a criminal case to a fair trial.
"In this instance, this court resolves the conflict between these important principles in favor of protecting the right of the accused to a fair trial," Judge Hoven wrote in the order.
"Therefore, it is ordered and decreed that neither the court, court personnel, the Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney, members of the Pacific Police Department, members of the Major Case Squad, civilian witnesses, nor attorneys for the defendant and members of their staff may comment publicly on this case, subject to provisions of Rule 4-3.6(b)," the order states.
Rule 4-3.6(B), which prohibits statements that could prejudice a case, states in part that a lawyer may state:
The claim, offense or defense and, except when prohibited by law, the identity of the persons involved; information contained in a public record; that an investigation is in progress; the scheduling or result of any step in litigation; a request for assistance in obtaining evidence and information; the identity, residence, occupation and family status of the accused; information necessary to aid in the apprehension of a suspect; the fact, time and place of arrest; and the identity of investigating and arresting officers or agencies and the length of the investigation.
A request by The Missourian to Pacific police for incident reports and any 911 calls to Loggins' apartment was refused Monday based on the judge's order.
Officers with the St. Louis Major Case Squad were called in to investigate the homicide Tuesday, Nov. 3, and by that evening had obtained a search warrant for the apartment of Loggins.
When officers and other investigators entered the apartment they found a "substantial amount of blood" along with pieces of skin and other tissue, according to a probable cause statement filed with the court.
Authorities allege that after the murder, Loggins went to the Wal-Mart store at Eureka where he purchased the 64-gallon plastic trash can along with carpet cleaner, detergent and glue. Investigators said a store surveillance video taken about 9:30 a.m. Monday, Nov. 2, shows a man resembling Loggins purchasing those items and leaving in a white Cadillac Escalade with a license plate registered to Loggins.
Detectives seized two large trash bags from the dumpster. One contained rags and paper towels with a "substance that appeared to be blood," a sticker for a new 64-gallon trash can and mail addressed to Loggins at 21 Monroe Woods, according to the probable cause statement. The other bag held a Wal-Mart receipt for glue, empty ice bags and an earring.
Last Thursday, Loggins waived formal arraignment on the charges. His next court date is set for Dec. 10.