Hearing reveals details in Uphold murder




  • In US
  • 2021-04-03 04:01:00Z
  • By Tribune Publishing

Apr. 3-KINGWOOD - During a preliminary hearing Friday, the Preston County Magistrate Court found probable cause regarding the first-degree murder charges against Stephanie Michelle Heath. Heath, 34, and Zachary Craig Saunders, 34, both of Albright, are charged with the March 9 murder of John "Johnny " Uphold. Saunders waived a preliminary hearing.

Heath's attorney, Samuel P. Hess, argued the state didn't make a finding in their case against her. He said there was no evidence to show she was involved in a conspiracy.

Captain T. N. Tichnell, the lead investigator on the case, was the state's only witness. The defense did not call witnesses.

Tichnell said the State Office of the Medical Examiner conducted an autopsy and found Uphold's death was a result of seven or eight blows to the head with a blunt object.

He said on March 6 Captain T. E. Mitter and Deputy R. Martin responded to a report of an unresponsive person lying in a large pool of blood, and there was a blood trail leading from where his truck was parked, and multiple blood pools along the trail. Tichnell said a neighbor, Darrin Hess, was on his way to work and saw Uphold's truck door was open, and then he saw the body.

"There was multiple blood pools, " Tichnell said "There was a blood trail diagonally across the lot from his (Uphold's) truck." He added that the trail went from Uphold's truck down a grassy embankment and to the parking lot where the body was found.

"The truck door was open, and there was a bloodstain on the door, " Tichnell said. "There was dirt on the armrest. His shirt and jacket were torn off of him, and there was a can of Copenhagen, a lighter, and a broken wristwatch on the the ground."

He said during the examination, deputies recovered multiple hairs that were clutched in Uphold's hand and a longer hair on his arm. He said the hair on his arm was not consistent with Uphold's hair but did appear generally consistent with Heath's hair. Tichnell said the hair was sent to the state lab for analysis, and officials are waiting on results.

Tichnell said March 22 he and Lieutenant G. E. Sinclair completed a timeline of Saunders' and Heath's known activities for the night. Based on Uphold's known routine, it is believed his murder occurred at about 2:30 a.m. The longest time span Saunders' and Heath's activities are not accounted for was one hour and one minute. After the estimated time of the murder, the longest time span was 43 minutes. During the time period of the murder, their whereabouts were not accounted for for two hours and 11 minutes. Sinclair is a cell phone and computer forensics analyst and polygraph examiner for the Preston County Sheriff's Department.

A bat found behind the drywall in one of the bathrooms in the house Saunders and Heath are building was also sent to be analyzed. The WVSP Forensic Laboratory reported a blood stain had been found near the pocket area of the jeans Saunders was wearing on the day of the murder. Further testing is being done.

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