ST. ALBANS, W.Va. -- Police say a relative of a woman found dead in her St. Albans home has confessed to killing her. Timothy Ray Sutherland, 29, of Moses Street in St. Albans, was charged Wednesday night with the first-degree murder of Stacie Ann Smith, St. Albans Police Lt. James Agee said.
Sutherland was arraigned in Kanawha County Magistrate Court and is being held at South Central Regional Jail without bond. His preliminary hearing is set for 1:30 p.m. Jan. 7. Smith, 32, was found dead Monday afternoon in her Carson Street home.
Sutherland, who has been identified as Smith's first cousin, had been arrested earlier Wednesday on what police said at the time were charges unrelated to Smith's death. When he was first taken into custody, Sutherland initially was charged only with failure to register for the state sex offender registry.
He was convicted in 2007 of third-degree sexual assault on a female victim between the ages of 13 and 17, according to the state sex offender registry. He served just over two and a half years in a correctional facility and was to be on probation for the next 20 years.
Agee said Wednesday afternoon that Sutherland had been questioned by investigators more than once since his initial arrest. Wednesday night, Agee said the murder charge had been filed after investigators returned to the crime scene on Carson Street. He said they were "hunting for some evidence said to be near the victim's home.
"That has been located and it bolsters the case," Agee said. He would not provide any further details on the evidence, but he said that after it was found Sutherland confessed Wednesday evening to killing Smith. Sutherland's mother, Joyce Meddings, is the sister of Stacie Smith's mother, Marlene Hardwick.
Meddings was reached earlier Wednesday at Marlene Hardwick's St. Albans residence, where family and friends had gathered, before the murder charges were filed against her son. She said then that her son and niece were raised together and were very close.
"They've never even had a harsh word between them," Meddings said at the time. "There was nobody closer than those two. They've always loved each other. "He's just really having a hard time with it," Meddings said of her son's reaction to Stacie's death. "Stacie was just a little dream girl, and we're going to miss her."
Investigators obtained a search warrant Tuesday to search a motel room at the America's Best Value Inn and Suites in Jefferson after family members told investigators that Smith had spent several nights at the motel before moving into the Carson Street home late last week.
Family members also told investigators that Sutherland had been staying with Smith in the room. Detectives did not recover any evidence from the room, the warrant stated. But in that warrant, police identified Sutherland as a "person of interest."
Witnesses told officers that Sutherland had been at Smith's Carson Street home Monday, the warrant said. Investigators wrote in the warrant that "based on witness interviews that Timothy Sutherland was one of the last people to see the victim alive."
Police were on the lookout Monday for Smith's vehicle, a pearl white Chevrolet Tahoe, and were able to track it using the vehicle's OnStar system, which is primarily used by car owners for communication, emergency response and tracking purposes. The vehicle was found on Chesapeake Avenue in the Jefferson area, just past the Kanawha Terrace-MacCorkle Avenue intersection. Investigators said a man identified as Joseph Hardwick was driving the Tahoe Monday.
Police have not said how Hardwick is connected to Smith. Hardwick told investigators that a man named "Tim" gave him the vehicle early Monday, according to the warrant. Leanne McDaniels, a longtime friend of Smith's, said she did not know Joseph Hardwick or whether he was any relation to the victim or her mother.
Meddings, Sutherland's mother and Stacie Smith's aunt, said she believed Joseph Hardwick was a relative of her sister's ex-husband, but Meddings said she didn't know him. Police said Smith's body was found in her house by her father, Joe Paul, about 12:40 p.m. Monday.
Smith's mother had asked Paul to go by the house to check on Smith after she hadn't picked up her 7-year-old daughter from a friend's house. Paul told detectives with the Kanawha Bureau of Investigation, an investigative team of detectives from several local law enforcement agencies, that he heard Smith's 3-year-old son inside the house.
The boy opened the back door for him, according to the search warrant. Paul then found Smith's body in the kitchen face down in a pool of blood, detectives said in the warrant. Officers noted blood smears on the doorframe above the body and also discovered bloodstains in the master bedroom, according to the warrant. Officers found blood in the hallway leading from the bedroom to the kitchen and a disparaging phrase written on the wall in the living room. Smith's son, Landen, was not injured, police said.
"He doesn't know really what is going on," McDaniels, Smith's longtime friend, said of the victim's young son. "He tells us now that Stacie's dead, but that first day he told his grandfather that Stacie was sleeping. We don't think he really knows what dead means."
"McKenzie is torn up over this," she said of Smith's daughter. McDaniels said the children are staying with their father to keep them away from those talking about their mother's gruesome death. McDaniels also was interviewed Wednesday afternoon by telephone at Smith's mother's home, where friends and relatives had gathered. She said she had grown up with Smith.
The two had been close friends since first grade at Anne Bailey Elementary School and remained friends into adulthood, often spending time together while tending to their children. McDaniels said she was shocked to the core Monday when she heard that her lifelong friend had been found dead.
"It wasn't true, I didn't believe it," McDaniels said. "There's no way someone could do this to someone like Stacie. "She was the type of person that would give you her last dime."
Smith had moved into the Carson Street house on Christmas Eve, said McDaniels, also 32, of St. Albans. Smith was trying to buy a house for her and the children and had been staying with her mother until her father found a rental house for her to live in temporarily, McDaniels said.
Smith had recently left her job as a medical assistant in a doctor's office and wasn't working at the time of her death, McDaniels said. Smith coached the St. Albans Midget League's C-Team cheerleaders, who are mostly 6- and 7-year-olds.
"Her life revolved around her kids," McDaniels said. She said Smith didn't really do much for fun other than spend time with her children. "She would, you know, take them to the mall or to wherever, but she didn't have fun really for herself," McDaniels said.
"We might squeeze in a girls' night here or there, but mostly it was just us and the kids." An autopsy on Smith was scheduled to be completed Tuesday, but the coroner's findings had not yet been released Wednesday night.