Shafer sentenced to 60 years for 2013 murder

Claude Delmus Shafer Jr. was Phyllis Kline’s neighbor, a fellow churchgoer and a handyman who worked around her house before he stabbed her to death.

WOODSTOCK – Claude Delmus Shafer Jr. was Phyllis Kline’s neighbor, a fellow churchgoer and a handyman who worked around her house before he stabbed her to death.

Shafer was also a man with a long criminal record, a subject that figured prominently in a hearing Friday in Shenandoah County Circuit Court that ended with Shafer sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Amanda Wiseley condemned Shafer for taking advantage of Kline’s kindness before killing her.

“She helped the defendant after he got out of incarceration when no one else would,” Wiseley said. “She let him work in her house, do things around there, paying him when no one else would, and he repaid her with seven stab wounds to her neck and head. That’s how the defendant repaid her for being kind above and beyond what any Christian would do and did do for the defendant.”

Shafer appeared in court but spoke only through his attorney, Peter Ungvarsky, who read a statement by his client: “I am very sorry for my involvement in the crime that led to Phyllis being killed. I never should have broken into Phyllis’s house. That was wrong. I really liked and cared about Phyllis. She was good to me and my kids. I feel terrible about what happened, and I’m truly sorry for my involvement.”

Shafer, 38, entered an Alford plea of guilty in June to the murder of Kline, 65. An Alford plea allows a defendant to continue to insist he is innocent while admitting that the prosecution has enough evidence to convict him.

Wiseley said Shafer and several companions broke into Kline’s house at 14887 Old Valley Pike, Edinburg on the night of June 14, 2013. Authorities found her in a bed covered with blood two days later.

Hupp’s sentence also included 34 years and 10 months for probation violations stemming from Shafer’s criminal past, which included 24 felonies, 10 or 11 of them burglaries. The last one resulted in Kline’s murder. He said the decision to impose the maximum sentence under the plea agreement was “easy.”

“This is a horrendous crime. It is hard to view the photographs,” Hupp said alluding to the crime scene.

“It is hard to think about the horror that Miss Kline endured in the moments, the last moments of her life.”

The plea agreement reached between the defense and the prosecution called for Hupp to choose a sentence between 40 and 60 years. Wiseley said Shafer deserved the maximum for what he did to Kline and her family, several of whom were in the courtroom.

Defense attorney Edward Ungvarsky asked Hupp to sentence Shafer to 50 years in prison.

Ungvarsky spoke of Shafer’s warm relationship with his children, two of them not his biological offspring.

“He is more than the worst things he has done,” Ungvarsky said of his client. “He’s a human being with strengths as well.”

In her closing argument, Wiseley spoke scornfully about appeals for compassion toward Shafer. She cited testimony by Kline’s nephew, Christopher Dowling, minutes earlier from the witness stand.

“He didn’t care what he did to this family,” Wiseley said of Shafer, “and so your honor we ask the court to show him the same compassion he showed Phyllis on the 14th of June 2013 and sentence him to the maximum of 60 years.”

Wiseley initially sought the death penalty against Shafer, but the case became bogged down in a series of motions dealing with what Shafer’s attorneys described as their client’s deteriorating mental condition.

Hupp ordered Shafer transferred to Central State Hospital in Petersburg, but more delays followed as hospital officials struggled to execute the transfer. Once the transfer was complete, it took months before Shafer was deemed fit to stand trial and returned to RSW.

More delays arose after Shafer had trouble obtaining a medication at RSW that had helped restore him to mental competency at Central State.

The defense contended that several people accompanied Shafer to Kline’s house, stabbed her and later falsely blamed the killing on Shafer.

Wiseley said the evidence against Shafer included his DNA found under Kline’s fingernails. None of his other companions on the night of the murder possessed the kind of familiarity with the house that made it easier to commit a burglary, Wiseley said.

Wiseley told Hupp: “He is a menace to society your honor, and I don’t use that word lightly. He was a menace that night to Phyllis Kline.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com.

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