By Joe Beck
The prosecution dropped a charge of first-degree murder against Claude Delmus Shafer Jr. at a preliminary hearing Tuesday in Shenandoah County General District Court, but Shafer remains in jail and may be indicted later in circuit court.
Charges of burglary and theft of a firearm were also dropped.
Commonwealth's Attorney Amanda Wiseley said Shafer remains held without bond on a probation violation and a charge of robbery stemming from the murder case.
"Dropping charges in the district court is a common prosecution option, particularly where a defendant is being held without bond on charges already pending in circuit court," Wiseley said in a statement issued Wednesday.
The charges against Shafer were the product of an investigation into the stabbing death of Phyllis Kline, 65, of 14887 Old Valley Pike near Edinburg on June 14.
Authorities said two anonymous witnesses told them they saw Shafer covered with blood on the day of the murder. One of them said Shafer had a knife in his hand. The other witness reported seeing Shafer breaking into Kline's house, according to court documents.
Authorities say Shafer, 35, of 14447 Old Valley Pike, Edinburg, later told them during an interview he had entered Kline's bedroom on the night of the burglary and saw her body lying in the bed.
General district courts lack the authority to conduct a trial on felony charges, but may conduct preliminary hearings to evaluate evidence and determine whether a case should be sent to a grand jury for possible indictment.
"I remain committed to seeing that all criminal activity in Shenandoah County is punished to the full extent of the law," Wisely said. "However, sometimes the preliminary hearing can place the prosecution at a disadvantage or circumstances may exist that are beyond the control of the prosecution."
Wiseley said the prosecution may decide in such cases to drop the charges in district court and take up the case for indictment in circuit court, "particularly when the defendant is already being held on other charges, and there is no threat to the safety of the citizens of Shenandoah County or the community at large."
Shafer's next court appearance is scheduled for 2 p.m. April 16 in circuit court.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org