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Man could be charged with killing fetus in W.Va.

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James T. Zell

Former Strasburg resident extradited from Pennsylvania

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. -- A former Strasburg man charged with killing his girlfriend was extradited this week from Pennsylvania.

James T. Zell, 23, is charged in Morgan County, W.Va., with the killing of his pregnant girlfriend, Kelly Elizabeth Butler, 29.

Zell had lived in an apartment at 190 N. Massanutten St. in Strasburg last summer, and Butler lived nearby.

The couple were living in the Trl Lake Park trailer court in southern Morgan County, near the Virginia border, when Butler was killed. Her body was found Dec. 23 in an abandoned cabin in a remote area of Hampshire County. It's thought she had been dead about two weeks.

Morgan County Sheriff's Chief Deputy W.J. Shambaugh said in December that his agency was contacted by a Shenandoah County deputy who was told Zell had been telling residents in Virginia that he had killed Butler.

Shambaugh and a colleague talked to Zell in his home Dec. 22, and the suspect said he didn't know where his girlfriend was and was joking about having killed her, Shambaugh said.

By the next day, Zell was being held in a Chambersburg, Pa., jail on alcohol and gun charges. While there, he confessed to Shambaugh and another deputy that he had attacked Butler.

"He said that they came home from the bar and they had gotten in a fight, and she had punched him several times," Shambaugh said. "He said that he must have blacked out because he said when he came to that Kelly was dead and had finger marks around her throat. He said he didn't remember it, but he knows he did it because there was no one else there."

Zell is charged with concealment of a dead body by Hampshire County authorities, Shambaugh said.

He was extradited from Pennsylvania on Monday, and arraigned on the murder charge in Morgan County Magistrate Court in Berkeley Springs, Shambaugh said.

He said Zell is being held without bond in the Eastern Regional Jail in Martinsburg,, and is expected to have a felony preliminary examination soon. That examination will determine if there is enough evidence to seek an indictment, Shambaugh said.

"Zell is expected to be indicted in April, and a second murder charge for the fetus is a possibility," he said.

Under West Virginia state code, an embryo or fetus is recognized as a "distinct unborn victim" in a violent crime. On Thursday, Shambaugh wasn't aware of any other Morgan County cases involving someone charged with murder of a fetus, but based on his research, he said the code "definitely applies" in Zell's case.


Two people were killed.

One woman murdered by strangulation, one embryo failed to survive its mothers death.

The Latin origin of the word fetus is "offspring". Aren't our offspring called children?

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