Judge prohibits Shipley's sons from seeing her

Mother hired man to kill her husband for insurance

Phone calls, letters are allowed

Decision based on report filed by boys' attorney

Carroll County

April 22, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

A Carroll County woman sent to prison this year for masterminding the killing of her husband will not be allowed visits with her two young sons from a previous marriage, a judge ruled yesterday.

Following the recommendations of a court-appointed attorney for the two older children of Melissa Lynn Baumgardner Shipley, Carroll Circuit Judge Michael M. Galloway barred them from visiting her in prison. However, she will be allowed to have monitored telephone calls with them twice a month and can write them letters.

Galloway will also allow the children's maternal grandparents, Clifford Ray and Bertha L. Baumgardner of Westminster, to visit with their grandsons, who live nearby with their father, Shannon W. Miller.

According to a report filed by the children's attorney, Samantha Z. Smith, the boys, ages 12 and 9, have suffered "substantial emotional distress as a result of the upheaval in their lives."

The boys have been living with their father since their mother was arrested in the killing of their stepfather, Scott E. Shipley, 27. Shipley was shot in November 2002 on his last day of work at a Westminster trucking company. Melissa Lynn Baumgardner Shipley, then pregnant with the couple's son, was arrested 11 days later and charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder after the gunman, Butchie Junior Stemple of Taneytown, admitted shooting Shipley. Stemple, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, testified at Shipley's trial that she promised him $5,000 to shoot her husband.

During a two-week jury trial in June, prosecutors presented evidence that Shipley forged documents and then set into motion a plan to have her husband killed so she could collect $96,000 from a life insurance policy.

At the trial, witnesses described her as an adulterous, free-spending bar-hopper. Telephone records showed that she was in contact with Stemple the day before and within a half-hour of the killing.

Shipley, 33, was sentenced to life without parole in January after being convicted of both charges and was taken to the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup. She appeared yesterday at the hearing.

Miller and his ex-wife's parents embraced after the judge's decision.

"I never really had problems with the Baumgardners," said Miller, who attended the hearing with his fiancee, Susan DeCheubel. "Just with her -- Melissa."

He said he didn't like the idea of his boys being exposed to the prison environment.

"If you were in my shoes, would you want your kids to go to jail and visit with her?" Miller asked.

He added that he was worried about conversations his sons had with their mother while she was jailed at the Carroll County Detention Center.

"My oldest told me he didn't understand why Mommy makes him hate me and then she takes Scott away," Miller said.

DeCheubel said the younger son told them that his mother promised to be released by his 21st birthday.

Smith filed a report in December and recommended no contact between the boys and their mother and her parents, based on her interviews and the advice of a social worker assigned to therapy sessions with the boys.

"It is her expert opinion that the boys would be best served by having some additional time without contact with Ms. Shipley and her parents so that the boys can adjust to their custodial arrangement and stabilizing their family situation before having to deal with their relationship with their mother," Smith wrote in her report.

"Undersigned counsel believes that, while outwardly seeming to deal with the matter, the boys are in turmoil. They are upset and angry with their mother but still want to have a relationship with her and are having a hard time reconciling these emotions," the report stated.

Smith appeared in court yesterday with revisions to that recommendation, based on follow-up interviews with the social worker and Miller. Smith said the children's situation has stabilized this year, so visits with their grandparents could begin again "so long as the grandparents are not making any unrealistic statements about Ms. Shipley's release or appeals."

Galloway ruled that the boys should be allowed to talk on the telephone with their mother on two weekend nights a month -- with the stipulation that there be no comments about her getting out of jail or the success of any pending appeals.

Also observing the hearing yesterday were Scott Shipley's parents, Raymond and Brenda Shipley. The Shipleys were awarded temporary custody of Scott and Melissa Shipley's only child, who last month celebrated his first birthday. The Shipleys will be in court next week to seek permanent custody.

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