For the second time this year, Franklin County authorities have requested the death penalty for defendants charged in separate murder cases.
Franklin County Prosecutor Bob Parks filed a notice of intent last week to seek the death penalty for Vernell J. Loggins Jr., charged with first-degree murder in the death and mutilation of Stephanie M. Fields, Pacific, last November.
In January, Parks filed a motion requesting the death penalty for Timothy D. Shults who is charged with first-degree murder in the July 3, 2009, death of Deborah Marsch, 53, of Union.
Loggins, 37, Pacific, has been held on a $1 million bond since his arrest Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009, hours after the body of Fields was found in a large trash can beside a dumpster at the Monroe Woods Apartment complex.
The woman's head and hands were not in the can, but were recovered two days later on the bank of the Meramec River near Times Beach. Sources said information provided by Loggins led investigators to search and recover those body parts.
The death penalty notice, filed May 5, notes that the state intends to prove the following statutory aggravating circumstance:
"The murder in the first degree was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved torture or depravity of mind . . . in that the defendant, while killing Stephanie M. Fields or immediately thereafter, purposely mutilated or grossly disfigured the body of Stephanie M. Fields by acts beyond that necessary to cause her death."
The notice was filed the day after Lisa Preddy, public defender, filed a motion for a change of venue in the Loggins case. Circuit Judge Gael Wood set a hearing on that motion for June 28, 2010.
That hearing may not be held, however, because the case is expected to be transferred to the capital crimes unit of the Missouri Public Defenders office because the death penalty notice was filed.
The St. Louis Area Major Case Squad was activated the day the woman's body was found and by that evening members of the sheriff's department's Emergency Response Team had served a search warrant at an apartment and took Loggins into custody without incident.
Investigators seized evidence in Loggins' apartment and a surveillance video from the Eureka Wal-Mart store which shows a man resembling the suspect purchasing a 64-gallon plastic trash can along with carpet cleaner, detergent and glue.
The murder trial of Shults, 46, Washington, is scheduled for June 23 through July 1, 2011.
The trial is set almost two years to the day after Marsch was found murdered in Union's Autumn Hill Park in an apparent random act of violence. Authorities allege that she was strangled July 3, 2009. Her body was recovered July 5, 2009, on land off Judith Spring Road west of Union.
Shults also remains in the county jail on $1 million bond.
Prosecutors decided to seek the death penalty in the case after Shults declined a plea bargain in exchange for a sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole.