WESTON, West Virginia — A West Virginia judge has dismissed first-degree murder charges against two men in a 1999 cold case after a special prosecutor said a key witness lacked credibility.
Lewis County Circuit Court Judge Jake Reger on Thursday granted special prosecutor Laura Pickens' motion to dismiss the charges against Joseph Edward Metz, 40, of Horner and Charles Stephen Freeman, 52, of Archbold, Ohio. The charges were dismissed without prejudice, meaning they could be filed again, media outlets reported.
Pickens' motion said a third defendant, 59-year-old David Martin Hughes of Archbold, has made several conflicting statements and is an unreliable witness. Hughes' statements included those implicating Metz and Freeman, implicating himself and the other men, and recantations of other statements.
Hughes had pleaded guilty in 2014 to conspiracy to commit armed robbery. In exchange for his plea, Hughes agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in the case against Metz and Freeman.
Metz and Freeman were charged with killing Maxine Stalnaker, 69, and her daughter, 46-year-old Mary Friend, both of Jane Lew. The women disappeared on Dec. 1, 1999 after they left their home to go on a Christmas shopping trip. Their bodies have not been found.
The women's silver-gray station wagon was found five days later near the Harrison County community of Gore in a muddy lot behind a concrete wall. In 2002, a purse belonging to one of the women was found at Stonewall Jackson Lake. At the time, authorities believed their bodies would be found weighted down at the bottom of the lake, but an extensive two-day search of lake didn't turn anything up.
Metz is the son of Friend and the grandson of Stalnaker.
Pickens, who is Harrison County's prosecutor, said she and other prosecutors in her office concluded that Hughes' testimony was the only way to make a case against Metz and Freeman.
All three men initially were charged in September 2013 with the slayings. Former Lewis County prosecutor Mike Smith later dismissed the charges, saying there was a possible procedural error.
The Harrison County prosecutor's office was assigned to Metz and Freeman's part of the case because current Lewis County prosecutor Christina Flanigan had worked for the defense firm that represented Metz. Gilmer County prosecutor Gerald Hough was assigned to handle Hughes' part of the case.