Ava florist convicted in wife's death

Thursday, July 28, 2005

ROLLA, Mo. -- Jurors who deliberated more than 16 hours after a weeklong trial convicted Ava florist Daniel Stewart of killing his wife more than two years ago.

Stewart, 39, collapsed into a fetal position Tuesday night as deputies were escorting him out of the courtroom. The deputies helped him to his feet, and he continued walking out.

Stewart stood expressionless and bowed his head against his hands when Circuit Judge John Moody told him he'd be sentenced Oct. 3 on the second-degree murder conviction. He faces between 10 to 30 years or life in prison.

Kathy Stewart, a counselor at Ava Elementary School in Douglas County, was found dead along a creek west of Ava in May 2003, four days after her husband reported her missing. An autopsy showed she died of asphyxiation.

Stewart testified Friday that he and his wife of 18 years argued in the bedroom of their home and that she grabbed his arm before he left the room.

He said she then took a shower, and he took a bath and went to spend the night in another bedroom with one of their sons, who was ill. Stewart said his wife's van was gone the next morning when he took their children to school and that he assumed she had left earlier for work.

Dee Wampler, the lead defense attorney, said no scientific evidence linked Stewart to the crime.

"My client denies guilt and he did all the way through," Wamp-ler said. "Now we have to get a notice for a new trial ready, and an appeal."

Andy Hosman, an assistant attorney general who was the lead prosecutor, said the verdict brought closure to the case.

Kathy Stewart's brother, James Sparks, of Ozark, said he had not looked forward to the trial.

"From day one, I've said nobody wins," Sparks said. "I dreaded the trial because it's an uncomfortable time to go through."

Wampler said his client's last request before being incarcerated was to see his sons, who are being cared for by his family.

The trial was moved to Phelps County after the parties couldn't find a suitable jury in Douglas County and the jury pool in Wright County was deemed too small.

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