ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s highest court upheld the murder conviction of a Washington County man Wednesday, reversing a decision by an intermediate court.
Washington County jurors in November 1996 convicted Edward C. Stouffer of kidnapping acquaintance Jeffrey Fiddler and stabbing him to death as he tried to escape. Fiddler’s body was found in a ditch Feb. 17, 1989, along Interstate 81 near the Pennsylvania-Maryland border, court records show.
In his appeal, Stouffer argued he couldn’t be convicted of felony murder because Fiddler didn’t die during the kidnapping. Felony murder requires the state to prove the killing occurred during the course of another felony.
Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals ruled last December in Stouffer’s favor and ordered the case to be sent back to Washington County. “In no sense can Fiddler’s death be viewed as the `result or outcome’ of a kidnapping that [Stouffer] and his bellicose band intended to perpetrate,” Judge Arrie W. Davis wrote in that opinion.
But the state appealed, and the Court of Appeals rebuffed the intermediate court’s reasoning Wednesday. It said wounds on Fiddler’s right hand showed he died trying to defend himself during the kidnapping.
“There was evidence that Fiddler was stabbed to prevent his escape,” Judge Alan M. Wilner wrote in the unanimous opinion.
The case has been contentious because the state presented little physical evidence, and Stouffer’s friends gave varying accounts of the dispute leading up to the crime.
For instance, court records show one of their social group’s members told the jury that Stouffer had warned his victim to stay away from a woman. Another testified that Stouffer said the victim had been “running his mouth too much.”
Both men were part of a “dysfunctional community of youngsters, in their twenties” who “socialized and frequently partied together,” Wilner wrote. “Some of them were associated with drugs, weapons and other criminal activity.”
The state’s theory, presented at trial, was that Stouffer and several friends kidnapped Fiddler in Hagerstown and took him to a field, where they made him partially disrobe and then beat him.
The state believes Stouffer stabbed Fiddler twice in the chest as he tried to escape then dumped the body at the state line.
It took prosecutors six years to build their case. Most of the evidence would eventually come from Stouffer’s friends, who said he boasted about the killing. Stouffer was sentenced to life in prison for murdering Fiddler and another 30 years for kidnapping him. The sentences are being served concurrently. -30-