Charges dropped in 1999 Lewis County cold case

WESTON, W.Va. — “Time to go home.” “Yes, sir.”

Charles Freeman
Charles Freeman

The exchange with a Deputy as he walked out marked the last time Charles Freeman would be in Lewis County Circuit Court for the foreseeable future after the state moved to drop murder charges against him and Joseph Metz related to a 1999 cold case.

In a 20-page motion filed by Laura Pickens, the Special Prosecutor from Harrison County, the state argued that it could not connect Freeman, 52, of Archbold, Ohio, and Metz, 40, of Horner, to the disappearance and deaths of Mary Friend and Maxine Stalnaker –Metz’s mother and grandmother– with the evidence collected.

With no crime scene, no murder weapon and no bodies, the state’s most compelling evidence came down to the testimony of a third co-defendant, David Hughes, who had entered into a 2014 plea deal to conspiracy to commit armed robbery in exchange for his witness.

However, as Pickens described, Hughes lacked “any semblance of credibility” after repeatedly changing his recollection of the events in December of 1999 to the disappearance of the two women.

071814_Metz
Joseph Metz

Pickens was appointed to the case after current Lewis County Prosecutor Christina Flanigan was elected to the position in November of last year. Flanigan recused herself from the case due to a conflict of interest having worked with Metz’s defense before winning her election bid.

It took four prosecutors working out of the Harrison County office to go over the dozens of digital recordings and thousands of files corresponding to the case, working to find new evidence.

“It’s not that we don’t have evidence…[the evidence] doesn’t rise to the level of probable cause,” Pickens told the court Thursday.

Pickens scheduled to meet with Hughes on June 2 to go over his testimony, which went from implicating both Freeman and Metz, to implicating only Metz, to claiming the police intimidated him into telling them what they wanted to hear.

Hughes was uncooperative during this meeting.

“It was painful to get him to answer simple questions,” Pickens said.

After the meeting, the state “regrouped” and begin filing the motion to dismiss after speaking with the family of the victims and law enforcement.

Pickens requested that Circuit Judge Jake Reger dismiss without prejudice, meaning the case could be revisited should more evidence be brought forth.

Defense attorneys for both men argued that with this being the second instance in which the they have been charged, arrested and then freed after the charges were dropped, that it was time the case was dismissed with prejudice.

The logic present was that if the two were arrested a second time on the same charges based on testimony from Hughes –whose testimony was known to be problematic before– what would stop them from being arrested under similar circumstances?

Judge Reger sided with the prosecution and ruled the dismissal be done so without prejudice believing due to the seriousness of the crime, the opportunity to revisit the case should be available only if new evidence comes to light.

He also stated that Pickens and Harrison County prosecutors should continue to pursue the case.

The defense asked Judge Reger when a release order would be issued, noting that the two men had been held for over 500 days each, to which he responded it would be filed by days end.

The last clue in the disappearance of the two women remains Friend’s purse found with Stalnaker’s ID inside, which was located in 2002 by fisherman at Stonewall Jackson Lake.