Bellows-Shaffer guilty of second degree murder
TOWANDA - Roger Hickok emerged from the courtroom Friday in Towanda after his former mistress, Emily Ruth Bellows-Shaffer, was found guilty of second degree murder in the death of his wife.
"I'm glad it's over with," he said, when asked for comment.
But he wasn't saying much else.
When asked if he thought the verdict was fair, he said, "at this point, I would have to think on it."
Bellows-Shaffer, 55, with a listed address of Crystal River, Fla., was charged with criminal homicide in the Sept. 15, 2010 death of Roger Hickok's wife, Carol Hickok, at the Hickok residence in Canton Township. Roger Hickok had an extra-marital affair with Bellows-Shaffer, which resulted in the birth of a son in 1998 and a subsequent custody battle with Bellows-Shaffer in which Roger Hickok won custody.
Bellows-Shaffer told police that she pushed Carol Hickok, who then fell headfirst into the dresser and struck the top of her head. However, Bradford County District Attorney Dan Barrett told the jury this week that there wasn't evidence that Carol Hickok even rose from her bed.
The affidavit notes that Bellows-Shaffer said she intended to stage the scene in an effort to make Carol Hickok's death appear accidental. Once she moved the body outside, Bellows-Shaffer said she entered the residence again, washed the blood from her hands in the master bedroom, stripped all the bedding from the bed, and put the blood-stained comforter in the washing machine and then left the residence the same way she entered and returned to her vehicle. Bellows-Shaffer, however, first denied to police that she was at the residence, before she admitted her guilt.
The jury also found Bellows-Shaffer guilty of criminal trespass, two counts of burglary, tampering with evidence, and aggravated assault. She was found not guilty of the more serious first-degree murder. At the request of Bradford County Public Defender Helen Stolinas, the jury members were polled and the seven men and five women all answered affirmatively.
After the verdict was read, Bellows-Shaffer could be seen talking with Stolinas, who appeared to console her with a gentle touch on the back.
According to Pennsylvania law, criminal homicide is considered murder of the second degree "when it is committed while (the) defendant was engaged as a principal or an accomplice in the perpetration of a felony."
In this case, Bellows-Shaffer committed the murder while she was engaged in an act of felony burglary, that of entering the Hickok residence.
According to Barrett, the court is required by the Pennsylvania sentencing law to impose a life sentence without parole for second degree murder. Barrett said the sentencing date for Bellows-Shaffer wasn't yet known. She also faces sentencing for the other charges of which she was found guilty.
Carol Hickok's sisters attended the trial and they expressed satisfaction with the jury's decision.
Her sister, Susan Killinger of Mill Hall, Clinton County, let her feelings be known as she walked out of the courtroom.
"Yea, I wanted to scream 'hallelujah,'" she shouted out.
She said the guilty verdict on second-degree murder was "just fabulous with our whole family."
Killinger said Carol Hickok was "the most wonderful person" who would do anything for anybody.
She was impressed by her sister's willingness to raise the son that her husband had with Bellows-Shaffer.
Another of Carol Hickok's sister, Cathy Kline of Lock Haven, said that Carol Hickok was forgiving. She said that Carol Hickok had no ill feelings toward Bellows-Shaffer.
"She said, 'I'm not the judge,'" Kline said.
Another of her sisters, Linda Packer of Beech Creek, Clinton County, said, "we're satisfied with the verdict."
Imagining what Carol Hickok would say, she said, "She would probably say she would want us to forgive Emily."
The other sisters in attendance were Sally Kline of Beech Creek and Pat Peters of Beech Creek.
During the trial, the seats in the courtroom were full on the side of the courtroom behind the prosecution's table with family and friends of Carol Hickok.
The jury began deliberations shortly before noon and the verdict was delivered in the afternoon. Once, the jury came out and asked the judge to re-read some instructions regarding a legal definition.
In the morning, Stolinas and Barrett delivered their closing statements.
Stolinas referenced a comment made by a casual friend of Bellows-Shaffer at the Bradford County Correctional Facility, who took the stand this week and testified that Bellows-Shaffer told her that she was "guilty, guilty, guilty - guilty of being stupid."
Putting her own twist on the statement, Stolinas then asked if Bellows-Shaffer was guilty of being stupid for being involved with Roger Hickok. She said the answer was yes.
In addition, she told the jury that Roger Hickok "knows more about this than he told you."
She challenged Roger Hickok's alibi that he was at the Pump 'n Pantry in Canton when Carol Hickok was killed at the Hickok residence.
Previously at Bellows-Shaffer's preliminary hearing, Roger Hickok testified that he would get up each day around 4:30 a.m. to 5 a.m. to go the Pump 'n Pantry where he could have coffee with the guys.
Stolinas asserted that Carol Hickok died before Roger Hickok went to the Pump 'n Pantry around 4 a.m. on Sept. 15, 2010.
The public defender pointed out that Bradford County Coroner Tom Carman, who arrived at the scene shortly after 8 a.m., testified that Carol Hickok's body was in full rigor mortis.
Stolinas referenced previous testimony in the trial by an expert witness that it takes 6 to 8 hours to start rigor mortis and another 6 to 8 hours for it to fully progress, with the process becoming slower with colder conditions.
Therefore, she said it wasn't possible to place the time of Carol Hickok's death at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. She also told the jury that the blood on Carol Hickok's nightshirt was dry.
In addition, Stolinas told the jury that both Roger Hickok and Bellows-Shaffer both asked police the same question repeatedly - what time Carol Hickok died. She said Roger Hickok volunteered his alibis to police at the scene. She said that he wasn't credible because he wasn't telling the truth when he told police about not being emotionally and romantically entangled with Bellows-Shaffer. And she questioned how he could say that Carol Hickok wasn't the primary caregiver of his son, noting how she cooked and cleaned for the boy and got him ready for school. She said he made this statement on Bellows-Shaffer's petition to modify custody.
Also, Stolinas drew attention to Roger Hickok's statement about his wife's body being cold, asking if this is how a man would react to the discovery of his wife's dead body in the last 10 to 15 minutes. She thought he said it in a cold voice.
Stolinas pointed out there was no blood on the deck at the Hickok residence, though blood was found inside. This suggested someone carried Carol Hickok's body and deposited it at the bottom of the exterior steps, and Stolinas questioned how Bellows-Shaffer could do it herself, noting Bellows-Shaffer's comment to police that she was strong, but not that strong.
The public defender said that Bellows-Shaffer's diary entry about her aches and pains was consistent with a struggle with Carol Hickok. "This was not intentional," Stolinas said. She said that Roger Hickok used his son with Bellows-Shaffer to control Bellows-Shaffer, noting that he could call the shots since he had custody. And though there were weapons in the Hickok residence, Stolinas pointed out that none were used.
Stolinas noted that Carol Hickok traveled with a friend to Europe, but instead of spending time with his son, Roger Hickok went to Philadelphia with Bellows-Shaffer. Noting his statements to 911 before he arrived at his residence, Stolinas said that Roger Hickok "knew the whole story" when he speculated about his wife falling while taking laundry out.
In addition, Stolinas pointed out testimony that two of the classic signs of strangulation were missing in the death of Carol Hickok, though Dr. Samuel Land testified this week that he believed the cause of death for Carol Hickok was strangulation.
Stolinas also pointed out that some people have a condition in which their heart stops after sustaining blunt force trauma to the neck that irritates the carotid artery, causing a lethal arrhythmia, raising the possibility that this was what happened.
She told the jury that the appropriate verdict for Bellows-Shaffer would have been involuntary manslaughter.
In his remarks, Barrett dismissed the idea that Roger Hickok was in the house at the time of the killing. He said there were three people, Roger Hickok's and Bellows-Shaffer's son, who was asleep; Carol Hickok, who was a reputable person established in the community; and Bellows-Shaffer, who he said doesn't tell the truth.
"She wanted the life that Carol had or part of the life that Carol had, and she was willing to kill for it, and she did," Barrett said.
Barrett said that strangulation is not an accidental death and requires intent and deliberation.
During his statement, Barrett said Bellows-Shaffer not only lied, but said things she led herself into believing, such as a statement that Carol Hickok was a larger person - by "30 pounds" - than Bellows-Shaffer.
"It's something she convinced herself of," he said.
Noting Bellows-Shaffer's comments in the police interview that she went to Hickok residence to see her son, Barrett questioned why she just didn't wait until later in the day when he was at school at New Covenant Academy in Mansfield, where she was permitted to have lunch with him under supervision. He also questioned why she didn't call ahead to the Hickok residence to ask to visit her son or stop by the Pump 'n Pantry to talk to Roger Hickok about it.
Instead, Bellows-Shaffer went on like a thief in the night, he said, or rather, a "killer in the night.
Barrett pointed out how Bellows-Shaffer asked police, "wouldn't my fingerprints be on the door?" He suggested this was planned.
"She made awfully darn certain they weren't on the door," Barrett said.
Barrett asked why when Roger sent her a text message asking her if she was up, why she didn't return it and say she really needed to see her son.
Barrett also brought up the issue of premeditation and deliberation, and told the jury to remember one of Bellows-Shaffer's diary entries in which she wrote that she would be "living a different life."
"Carol was everything she wasn't going to be," he said.
That diary, which contained angry comments about Roger Hickok, comments about the custody issue, and various thoughts, had one page that didn't contain any words, but just two drawings - drawings of windmills.
Eric Hrin can be reached at (570) 297-5251; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.