CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A judge has decided that an Elkview woman who shot her husband to death in his hospital bed should spend no more time in prison for the crime.
Rhonda Stewart, 56, will get credit for the time she has already served in jail and on home confinement. If she cooperates, she will be free in six years.
She sat motionless throughout the long hearing, but was visibly shaking as Kanawha Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman read his decision.
"She has already been incarcerated for a period of time," Kaufman said. "And she has had no supervision problems on home confinement.
"She has repeatedly expressed remorse and shame," the judge said. "She has expressed her belief, and I believe her, that no excuse is adequate.
"This understanding of life and of death comes from Ms. Stewart herself."
In 2009 a jury found Stewart guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Sammy Stewart and Kaufman sentenced her to life in prison with a chance for parole. The state Supreme Court overturned that and ordered a new trial, saying a jury should have heard about Stewart's domestic abuse.
Instead, she pleaded guilty earlier this year to second-degree murder with a firearm. The possible penalty was 10 to 40 years in prison.
With no second jury, Kaufman was the one who had to weigh the evidence that Stewart had been physically, emotionally and sexually abused by the man she had been with since age 14.
Stewart's two daughters and one psychiatrist testified during the hearing about that abuse and how it may have affected her actions on June 13, 2009. Prosecutors said the woman visited her husband in an intensive care unit, became angry with him and then drove home to retrieve a gun.
Witnesses said she calmly walked into the hospital with the gun in her purse, went to his beside and shot him in the head.
At her trial, Stewart became hysterical on the witness stand and said she planned to kill herself but accidentally shot him.
At Tuesday's hearing, her two daughters testified that Stewart was the victim of years of abuse at the hands of their father. They asked the judge not to send her back to prison.
Mickey Stewart said, "I do not approve of what happened. But I would like my mother to be on home confinement. She has spent 53 years being a victim of abuse."
She described the family home as one where physical violence inflicted by Sammy Stewart on his wife and daughters was frequent.
"He could be very good," she said of her father. "When he was bad there could be Hell to pay. No child should have to live through that. No woman should."
Her sister, Samantha Stewart, was often sent to a friend's home to escape the threats. Mickey Stewart was often sent to her room with dinner and told to lock the door.
Samantha Stewart called her childhood "dark and lonely."