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Belmont County

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Judge: Phelps 'terrorized the good citizens of Bellaire and Belmont County'

Updated: Friday, April 4 2014, 12:35 PM EDT
BELMONT COUNTY, Ohio – The second of two men has been sentenced for his role in the death of 92-year-old Lydia Ashworth, bringing the court proceedings, but perhaps not final closure, to the case as the Ashworth family continues to mourn their greatest treasure.
NEWS9’s Kate Davison received a letter from the Ashworth family, the first part of which addressed their deepest gratitude for many prayers and cards of support through a most difficult time.
At 92 years of age, her 2012 West Bellaire murder uncovered an unthinkable homicide investigation.
Fast forward nearly two years and there was a sentencing of life in prison without the possibility for parole for 21-year-old Devin Wayne Fuller, found guilty by a jury for his role in Ashworth's murder.
On Friday, a second man was sentenced to two separate crimes – involuntary manslaughter and aggravated burglary -- for his role after his Alford plea on Thursday.
Brandon Michael Phelps was afforded that sentence after it was determined he was not the one who caused the injuries resulting in the death of Ashworth; that he was not involved in a rape in any manner; and that Bellaire Police and the Ashworth family fully support this conclusion and resolution.
“This is not a compromise at all,” Judge Frank Fregiato
said. “This is where the evidence led. This is what resulted from the investigations and the evidence.”
Fregiato handed down Phelps’ fate without hesitation.
“I sentence the defendant on each of the two crimes to the maximum of 10 years in the penitentiary on each," he said.
The sentences will run consecutively for a total of 20 years without suspension, probation or parole.
“He has terrorized the good citizens of Bellaire and Belmont County, Ohio,” the judge said. “Let that sink in."
Phelps will be on post-release control for an additional five years.
“We hope that people realize that everything is not cut and dry or what you see on TV,” Bellaire Police Chief Mike Kovalyk said. “It comes down to the little facts of each case that makes it what it is.”
Phelps could now talk to investigators about what happened the night of June 30, 2012 now that none of his information could be used against him.
“We've attempted that,” Belmont County prosecutor Dan Fry said. “I’ve been told that he declined that, which doesn't surprise me.”
With that, a 22-month investigation involving two young men is in the books.
“I want to personally thank everyone that was involved in this investigation,” Kovalyk said.
“Fuller will probably die in the penitentiary and Phelps will spend the next 20 years in a penitentiary,” Fry said.
Ashworth’s family ended their letter by saying, "We have lost our greatest treasure, but while enduring this terrible loss, we have experienced many blessings, and for that, we will always be eternally grateful.”

Judge: Phelps 'terrorized the good citizens of Bellaire and Belmont County'

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