The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Stafford man pleads guilty in Belle Plains body case
BY KEITH EPPS / THE FREE LANCE–STAR
One of the men accused of killing a man whose remains were dug up in southern Stafford County earlier this year agreed to a plea deal Wednesday that calls for him to serve between 13 and 21 years in prison.
Stuart Lee Sullivan Jr., 49, of Stafford County was convicted of second-degree murder in Stafford Circuit Court.
Sullivan had been charged in connection with the June 2007 slaying of Jason Shane Plaster, who was shot and buried on a large tract of land off Belle Plains Road in White Oak.
Plaster’s remains were recovered March 29 following an extensive seven-day search that began after property owner Dennis Paul Benzie was arrested on drug-related charges.
Benzie told Sheriff’s Office investigators about Plaster’s slaying and named Sullivan and 44-year-old William Joseph Hughes as the ones who shot him.
A first-degree murder trial for Hughes and a trial on the drug charges for Benzie are still pending.
Sullivan, who is being represented by defense attorney Mark Gardner, entered an Alford plea to the murder charge, meaning that while he does not admit guilt, he acknowledges that the evidence is sufficient for a conviction.
In return for his plea, prosecutors Lori DiGiosia and Ed Lustig reduced a first-degree murder charge and dropped a firearms charge.
The prosecutors also recommended that Sullivan be sentenced within the state sentencing guidelines, which call for a penalty ranging from 12 years and nine months to 21 years and four months. Second-degree murder legally carries a penalty of five to 40 years.
According to Lustig and testimony from an earlier hearing, phone records showed that Hughes was the last person Plaster spoke with before he disappeared in 2007.
Benzie testified earlier that he, Sullivan and Hughes escorted Plaster to a remote area on his property not far from Potomac Creek under the pretense of getting some firearms that were buried there.
Hughes then fired a single shot from a black derringer into Plaster’s torso, according to the evidence.
Hughes had pronounced Plaster dead by the time Sullivan fired several more rounds from a 9mm handgun, according to testimony. An autopsy revealed that Plaster was shot twice, once in the torso and once at the base of the skull.
Benzie said he began digging Plaster’s grave but stopped because his back was hurting. He didn’t remember who finished digging, but said Hughes covered the body with lime before it was buried.
Benzie said he later drove Plaster’s 1997 Kia Sephia to the Mayfield subdivision in Fredericksburg and abandoned it. Police found the car and Plaster’s family reported him missing in August 2007.
Lustig said on Wednesday that both Benzie and Sullivan took police to the general area where the body had been buried, but neither could pinpoint the exact spot.
In response to a question from Circuit Court Judge Charles Sharp, Lustig said the motive for the slaying involved bad blood between Hughes and Plaster, but he did not elaborate.
Lustig later said Sullivan worked for Hughes at a local motorcycle shop and that Hughes was the Fredericksburg area president of the Warlock Outlaw Motorcycle gang.
Gardner told the judge that Sullivan believes Plaster was already dead when he shot him. Sullivan told police that he fired the shots because he feared for his own and his family’s safety if he didn’t.
Gardner added that Sullivan has no prior criminal records and has been cooperative throughout the investigation.
He said Sullivan barely knew Plaster and had no reason to want him dead, and he said Sullivan will testify against Hughes.
Sullivan will be sentenced on March 21. Hughes has a three-day jury trial scheduled to start Feb. 5. Benzie has a preliminary hearing set for Jan. 30 in general district court.
Keith Epps: 540/374-5404