Convicted woman asks for new trial

Shipley says letters will clear her in spouse's death

January 18, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Armed with what she said are letters that exonerate her, the Carroll County woman sentenced to life in prison for arranging the murder of her husband for nearly $100,000 in life insurance is asking for a new trial.

Melissa Lynn Baumgardner Shipley, 33, said that a letter allegedly written by admitted triggerman Butchie Stemple Jr. - who testified at her trial that she was the mastermind of the plot - show that the man lied when he said she was involved in Scott Shipley's fatal shooting.

The motion filed by her attorney, David P. Henninger, stated that Stemple wrote a letter to Melissa Shipley in which he acknowledged committing "perjury and false testimony" during Shipley's two-week jury trial in June.

Henninger said that another letter, written by inmate Craig Hann to Melissa Shipley, corroborates Stemple's statement.

Henninger filed a motion for a new trial on the same day that Carroll County Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. sentenced her to two life terms, plus 25 years on related theft and forgery charges. The motion was entered into court records Friday.

One of the letters, filed with the motion and allegedly written by Stemple, shows neat penmanship, words in all capital letters with misspellings.

The letter states: "I bet your kind of surprised to be hearing from me. A little birdie told me what my future is going to like unless I come clean. ... Girl, there was no conspiracy and we know that. I just got mad and scared, and I don't expect you to ever forgive me I just want you to know Im trying to make it right."

Melissa Shipley, of the north county community of Silver Run, was arrested and charged with murder Nov. 26, 2002, 11 days after her husband's body was found at the Westminster trucking company where he worked. At the time, she was five months pregnant. The boy is now living with his paternal grandparents.

Stemple, 29, of Taneytown, was charged after investigators found a handgun, later determined to be the murder weapon, in his toolbox.

Stemple pleaded guilty in May to charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy and agreed to testify against Melissa Shipley in hopes of receiving a reduced sentence. Stemple is now serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

During the Shipley trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Shipley forged insurance 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. Phone records showed she was in contact with Stemple the day before and within a half-hour of the murder.

Stemple testified that Melissa Shipley approached him repeatedly about killing her husband. He testified that she offered him $5,000 to commit the killing. No money ever changed hands.

Melissa Shipley insisted that her husband's death was the result of a drug deal gone wrong, a theory that Scott Shipley's family said was false. Police said no evidence linked him to drugs.

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