A 32-year-old Carroll County woman accused of arranging her husband's fatal shooting while she was pregnant with his child was found guilty yesterday of murder.
A jury deliberated for seven hours before finding Melissa Lynn Baumgardner Shipley guilty of first-degree murder, conspiracy, forgery and related counts. Prosecutors intend to seek a sentence of life with no chance for parole for Shipley.
During a two-week trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Shipley forged documents and then set into motion a plan to have her 27-year-old husband killed so that she could collect $96,000 from a life insurance policy. Witnesses described her as an adulterous, free-spending bar hopper, and phone records showed that she was in contact with the confessed gunman the day before and within a half-hour of the murder.
The gunman, Butchie Junior Stemple, admitted shooting Scott E. Shipley - and then testified that Melissa Shipley put him up to the task, offering him $5,000 to carry out the slaying.
David P. Daggett, senior assistant state's attorney for Carroll County, said Melissa Shipley's behavior - which included waiting for hours before checking on her husband the morning of the murder and writing letters soliciting the silencing of the prosecution's main witness - was not that of an innocent person.
"I've never seen anybody in all my years that seems as cold and calculating and manipulating to everybody as she is," Daggett said.
A Carroll County Circuit Court jury of eight women and four men apparently rejected the defense contention that Stemple shot Scott Shipley during a dispute over a drug deal.
Scott Shipley's parents said the allegation stung.
"We knew all the time that our son was never involved with drugs," said Raymond Shipley, Scott Shipley's father. "That hurt our name. ... He was a good son anybody could love.
"I miss him everyday," he added. "This is a sad, sad thing. There are no winners in it."
Melissa Shipley, of the north Carroll County community of Silver Run, was arrested and charged with murder Nov. 26, 11 days after her husband's body was found at the Westminster trucking company where he worked.
Stemple, 28, of Taneytown, was charged after investigators found a handgun, later determined to be the murder weapon, in his toolbox. Stemple pleaded guilty last month to charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy and agreed to testify against Melissa Shipley in hopes of receiving a reduced sentence.
Stemple testified that Melissa Shipley approached him repeatedly about killing her husband, starting at a Wal-Mart in Westminster and continuing at area bars and with a nocturnal tour of the crime scene. On Scott Shipley's last scheduled day of work at the trucking company, Stemple shot him and took his money clip. He said the money clip was a gift from Melissa Shipley that the woman wanted back.
As the verdict was announced yesterday, members of the Shipley and Baumgardner families wept. Melissa Shipley briefly hung her head.
"It was the right decision," said Melissa Shipley's aunt, Phyllis Warner, about the jury's verdict. The New Windsor woman, who watched the entire trial, added, "They made a good judgment, but it's hard."
Scott Shipley's mother, Brenda Shipley, said: "As long as they were out, we weren't sure what would happen. But when the first `guilty' came off, it was a relief."
"It's time for her to pay the piper."
Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. ordered a presentence investigation for Shipley and set her sentencing for Sept. 9.
Daggett, the prosecutor, said the victims go beyond Scott Shipley.
"I feel bad for the Shipleys," he said. "The Shipleys lost a son and a baby lost a father and a mother - though that's probably for the better."
Held without bond at the Carroll County Detention Center since her arrest, Melissa Shipley was allowed three days at Carroll County General Hospital to give birth to a son, Carter Ray Baumgardner, at the end of March. Court-ordered paternity tests showed that the child was Scott Shipley's.
Immediately after the birth, the baby was in the custody of Melissa Shipley's parents, Clifford and Bertha Baumgardner. Last month, Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. granted temporary custody to the infant's paternal grandparents, Raymond and Brenda Shipley.