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Home confinement deemed ‘appropriate’ for woman who shot husband

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - For the next six years, Rhonda Stewart will visit with workers at the Kanawha County Home Confinement office to go over her schedule. She will account for every place she's been and tell them what her next week looks like.  

But Stewart, who is unemployed and by all accounts is not a threat to public safety, won't be going far.

Kanawha Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman sentenced Stewart, 56, earlier this week to 10 years home confinement with credit for the four years she spent in state custody.

Harry Carpenter, who runs the county's home confinement program, said he couldn't speak for the judge in whether putting Stewart on home confinement was the best move. He can't speculate why Kaufman did it.

"There's a lot of thought that goes into it," Carpenter said Wednesday. "When they make these decisions they have all this reference material and case information.

"I do think this is appropriate for this woman. I do."

Stewart pleaded guilty last month to second-degree murder in the 2009 death of her husband, 56-year-old Sammy Stewart. She shot him as he lay in a hospital bed at Charleston Area Medical Center's Memorial Hospital.

She had previously been convicted of first-degree murder and Kaufman had sentenced her to life with a chance of parole. The state Supreme Court overturned that decision and ordered a new trial, saying the jury should have heard about her years of domestic abuse.

Stewart has been on home confinement since January 2012, when she was released from Lakin Correctional Center in Mason County to await her second trial. Carpenter said she has been no trouble at all.

She lives alone and modestly in a small bungalow on family-owned property. Carpenter said she's had exceptional support from her family, her two daughters in particular. But she's never worked to his knowledge and likely would have a hard time finding a job.

Those on the program must pay $52.50 per week for monitoring fees. He estimated the program brings in about $375,000 per year in fees.

"She's basically paying for us to baby-sit her at her own home," Carpenter said. "She comes here once a week and we go to her on occasion.

"She never leaves home, she lives by herself. She's not a drug dealer or into any of that."

On her in-office visits, she'll account for her whereabouts for the week and if she has any appointments the next week. Those on home confinement are permitted to go to work, school, church and to any medical or legal appointments, Carpenter said.

If that person lives alone they are permitted to leave the home to shop for groceries or pay bills. He said they usually try to schedule trips to the Laundromat or to the barber or grocery store on the same day as office visits because the person is already out of the home.

Home confinement officers use radar guns to establish whether someone is where they are supposed to be, Carpenter said. The ankle monitor gives off a signal that is picked up by the radar gun. The officer can drive by an establishment, a church for example, with the radar gun to determine if their charge is inside.

As part of the program Stewart has to stay drug- and alcohol-free and is subject to random drug testing and unannounced visits. This is done for all of the 220 people on Carpenter's watch, a number that fluctuates by the hour.

He said the average time spent on home confinement is about a year. Two years isn't uncommon, though three years is a long time.

"After a while we start to know them better than their family does," Carpenter said.

The six years Stewart will serve is out of the ordinary but not the longest he's ever seen. Carpenter said a man several years ago spent seven or eight years on home confinement.

About a dozen women accused or convicted of killing their husbands have been on home confinement since the program began nearly 20 years ago.

Only one man accused of killing his wife has been on confinement, he said, remembering Ricky Holley, who received the sentence in the late '90s. He was later found guilty of murdering his wife, Leigh, stuffing her in a toolbox and tossing it into the Kanawha River.

There also is a difference in monitoring. He said someone like Stewart, who keeps to herself and hasn't been a problem, would be on an RF ankle transmitter. The device is wirelessly connected to a box in her home.

The waterproof ankle monitor provides a small perimeter of freedom, meaning she can go outside, but she can't go much further. The perimeter can be adjusted - expanded or diminished - as the home confinement office sees fit. A person living in an apartment would have a smaller range to keep them from going to other apartments, for example, Carpenter said.

But there are also those who require further supervision. For those offenders, Carpenter and his officers use GPS tracking to keep an eye on them. The ankle transmitter is a little heavier, but it allows satellites to track and locate the person at any given moment in real time.

Carpenter also relies on the community, civilian and law enforcement to keep the offenders in line. He said their office receives tips all the time and that they investigate all of them.

"We have eyes and ears all over the valley," he said. "Last month we arrested three people after other people who had been on the program ratted them out.

"I've got six people here in my office but I've also got 105 (deputies) at the sheriff's department, and 180 (officers) at Charleston police and everyone else keeping an eye out."

Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at ashley.craig@dailymail.com or 304-348-4850.

 


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