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Stafford slaying charge advances

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A first-degree murder charge against a man accused of strangling his housemate to death last year was sent to a Stafford grand jury Tuesday.

John Douglas Cornell, 45, is accused of killing 59-year-old Roberta Dews on Oct. 5 at their home on Kellogg Mill Road in the Hartwood area.

The charge was sent to Circuit Court after Cornell waived his scheduled preliminary hearing in Stafford General District Court.

According to the investigation headed by Detective Todd Nosal, Dews was strangled with an electrical cord. Her brother called police Oct. 6 after finding her body in the home and immediately identified Cornell as a suspect, court records state. Dews had last been seen alive the previous day, the same day she called her sister and told her she would “be lucky if she lived through the night.”

Cornell had threatened Dews at least twice prior to her slaying, court records state.

Prosecutor Andrea Stewart, who is handling the case along with prosecutor Sandra Park, said Cornell had known Dews and her family for some time and had been living in the home with her and her brother for between three to four months.

He was supposed to perform certain chores around the house in exchange for free room and board.

The arrangement wasn’t working out that well, Stewart said, and after Cornell lashed out at Dews it was decided that he would have to leave and would no longer have access to a family vehicle.

He was standing beside the stolen van when police took him into custody several days after the slaying, police said.

Cornell had called police and informed them he was in a parking lot near the King George–Stafford county line.

Court records state that he gave a formal statement to police prior to being charged with murder.

He was also charged with grand larceny of a vehicle, but that charge was dropped Tuesday. Prosecutors indicated that was just a procedural move and said the grand larceny charge and other charges could be filed after the case gets to circuit court.

Dews, known as “Berta” or “Berdie,” was a longtime member of Grace United Methodist Church on Elk Ridge Road in Stafford, where she participated in numerous activities, mission teams and co-led the youth Sunday school.

Attorney V. James Ventura is representing Cornell.

Keith Epps: 540/374-5404


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