Bristol Herald Courier

Jail Doors Swing Open for Merry Pease

BY KATHY STILL
BRISTOL HERALD COURIER
Nov 15, 12:00 AM EST

WISE – The jail doors swung open once again Friday for Merry Christine Pease, a Wise County woman convicted twice of killing her husband 10 years ago.

Revolving cell doors and courtrooms have been a part of the Exeter community woman’s life for a decade as her case has moved through Virginia’s court system.

Friends and family who packed a courtroom erupted in cheers and tears after Judge Robert Stump reinstated Pease’s bond pending the remote possibility that the state Supreme Court would revisit its recent decision to uphold her second conviction in the shooting death of Dennis Pease, 35.

Pease, 46, was released on reinstated bond after spending 12 days in jail following the Supreme Court’s Oct. 31 ruling.

The grandmother had been free on bond pending appeals and was working toward a degree in criminal justice when the judge asked her to report to jail after her latest appeal was denied.

She spent 11 months behind bars nearly eight years ago after her first conviction. She was released when the conviction was overturned by the state Court of Appeals, which found prosecutorial misconduct.

Pease was convicted again three years ago and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Pease always has maintained her innocence and claims her husband disabled her car, dismantled the telephone and shot her in the abdomen before fatally shooting himself.

Tim McAfee, the prosecutor, successfully convinced two juries that Pease killed her husband to collect insurance money and Social Security benefits and then shot herself to cover the crime.

Between her two convictions, two special prosecutors refused to try her after an autopsy cover page turned up that indicated Dennis Pease shot himself.

McAfee later was appointed to pursue the case again and won the second conviction.

He and defense attorney Anthony Collins sparred Friday on motions filed on behalf of Pease.

Collins, who is handling Pease’s case on the Circuit Court level while two other attorneys work on the appeals, asked the judge to consider an alternative sentence.

He also wanted to reassemble the jury that convicted Pease in 2000 and question them in the judge’s chambers rather than in open court.

McAfee told Stump he found out about the motions late and questioned the legality of Collins representing Pease, considering he is not the "attorney of record."

"She can hire 14 lawyers if she wants to," Collins responded. "I represent her on these motions."

"Well, she’s here," the judge noted. "She is certainly sitting over there not objecting to Mr. Collins."

The attorneys also had differing views on bond reinstatement but agreed that the judge had the right to act on the matter.

"The commonwealth’s position is this lady was convicted twice ... of maliciously killing her husband," McAfee said.

Twenty-four jurors, 10 Court of Appeals justices and seven state Supreme Court judges determined Pease is a murderer, McAfee said.

The conviction alone would be enough to deny bond, he said.

A phone call was all it took for Pease to report to jail, Collins responded.

"She is obviously not a flight risk," he said.

Pease has rehabilitated herself by attending college, maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average and working as a tutor, Collins said.

"This has been a very unusual case," he said. "The courtroom is full of people who appeared here today for Merry Pease. I believe public sentiment is very clear about what should happen to Ms. Pease."

The judge sorted out the arguments and concluded that he lacked jurisdiction to act on the motions.

"I think it’s still in the bosom of the Virginia Supreme Court," Stump said. "I certainly bow to the higher authority of the Virginia Supreme Court."

The judge denied Pease’s motions but said he could take up the matters if the high court opts not to rehear the appeal.

kstill@bristolnews.com | 276-679-1338

Click HERE for the conclusions of forensics experts who reviewed Merry's case pro bono (no fee) -- and who Merry's lawyers decided not to call to testify at trial.

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