CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An Elkview woman accused of shooting her husband to death in his hospital bed pleaded guilty to second-degree murder Thursday, choosing not to go through a second trial in the case.
A jury found Rhonda Stewart, 56, guilty of first-degree murder in 2009, but the state Supreme Court ordered a new trial because it believed jurors should have heard testimony about her abuse at the hands of husband Sammy.
Kanawha Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman ruled that evidence inadmissible in the first trial.
Prosecutor Mark Plants said a second jury might consider the case differently if they listened to that. The state agreed to a charge of second-degree murder with a firearm and will not object to any request from Stewart for a sentence other than the penitentiary.
Plants said after the hearing he hopes for a harsh sentence. Up to 40 years is allowed by law for Stewart.
"I think anytime you murder someone you should spend the rest of your life in prison, or be executed for it," he said.
"He was ill and in a coma," Plants told the judge. "He woke up and said something that made her angry. She returned with a gun, fired the gun and killed him where he lay in a hospital bed."
Plants said he expected a new trial to include evidence that she had suffered domestic abuse, and he was uncertain how a jury would consider it in terms of the murder.
"I would expect the jury would hear that at one time, or multiple times, she was bound and raped and had a knife to her throat," Plants said. "The defendant was also threatened with a firearm."
He said a jury would probably have heard from a psychologist that the abuse left Stewart incapable of controlling of her actions.
"Based on that, I don't know what a jury would do," said Plants, explaining his willingness to make a plea offer.
Stewart had been incarcerated since her arrest, but was released from jail to home confinement by Kaufman a year ago.
Defense attorney Howard Salsbery told the judge that Stewart suffered "emotional, physical and sexual" abuse from the man she had been with since the age of 14 and up until the day of the murder.
But he, too, acknowledged the outcome of a second trial was uncertain.
"I know she was convicted of first-degree murder," Salsbery said. "And sentenced to life with mercy. She gains a substantial benefit by accepting this plea agreement."
Plants said no family members of either of the Stewarts wanted her to be charged or tried.
"There's no one who wants the state to move forward with this crime," he said. "Except for his girlfriend at the time."
That doesn't affect his actions, however, he said.
"I've secured a second-degree murder conviction with a potential 10-40 year sentence. I'm absolutely sure this is the maximum sentence I could get," he said.
Stewart's second trial was scheduled to begin March 19. Instead, she will be sentenced on that day.
During her first trial, Stewart took the witness stand in her own defense. She denied planning to shoot him.
She became hysterical and then shocked everyone, including her attorney, John Mitchell, when she said intended to shoot herself at his bedside. But she said he accidentally nudged her arm and the gun went off, killing him first.
The jury found her guilty of first-degree murder, but recommended mercy meaning she would have faced a parole board after serving 15 years.
Contact writer Cheryl Caswell at cher...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4832.