Virginia State Police Special Agent Mike Jones leaves the courthouse.
Steve and Heidi Swartz lost their daughter in 2006.
Although his court-appointed attorney argued that his client poses neither flight risk nor danger to the community, accused wife-killer Eric Abshire will remain behind bars without bond, a judge ordered Thursday morning. The decision came after the prosecution asserted that Abshire has a history of choking women and may have attempted to intimidate grand jury witnesses.
"Many were reluctant and expressed fear," said Orange County Commonwealth's Attorney Diana Wheeler in the February 10 hearing in Orange County Circuit Court. Wheeler told Judge Daniel Bouton she heard from witnesses fearful of "suspicous fires" and "sabotaged brakes on vehicles."
Wheeler also said that one witness claimed that one of Abshire's relatives approached her prior to her testimony to warn her they would "find out what she said."
Abshire is charged with first degree murder and perjury in the death of his wife, Justine Swartz Abshire, a 27-year-old kindergarten teacher who died November 3, 2006 in an incident that was initially called a hit-and-run.
Justine's parents, Steve and Heidi Swartz, began to doubt their son-in-law's story: that Justine suffered an automobile breakdown after taking a post-midnight drive. Abshire claimed he ventured out on his motorcycle and found his wife's body in the road, where he cradled her for as long as 15 minutes before seeking help from nearby residents. (He claimed he forgot he had his cell phone in his pocket.)
Doubts about his story multiplied in the summer of 2008 when investigators revealed that Justine had suffered 113 blunt trauma injuries– with none matching typical patterns in car impacts.
At the bond hearing, Wheeler added news details– including a reason prosecutors believe Justine was killed elsewhere, then transported to Taylorsville Road, where Abshire reported finding her.
"There was a lack of blood at the scene," Wheeler told the judge, "and a lack of blood in the body." In addition to nearly two dozen injuries to her head alone, Justine suffered a lacerated liver. And some of the injuries, Wheeler said, appeared to have occurred after death.
Significantly, Wheeler said, the Medical Examiner has been unable to rule out strangulation as a cause of death– and she noted that Abshire has a history of attacking women in that way.
In October 2008–- two months after an ABC Primetime Crime special on the case aired–- the mother of Abshire's two daughters sought and won a two-year-protective order against Abshire. In a Hook interview with Abshire at the time, he denied harming that woman, Allison Crawford, and said he was the one who'd been assaulted.
"She smacked me in the face with a DirecTV remote control and busted my nose," said Abshire, saying that when he "grabbed her by the shirt and throat" it was merely self-defense.
Crawford, who alleged "family abuse" in her filing denied his account of events, and said the court's award of the protective order– keeping Abshire away not only from Crawford but from their daughters– showed that his version wasn't true. While Crawford declined to describe what happened, and the records are sealed, prosecutor Wheeler offered a description during the hearing.
"It was strangulation in the presence of his children," said Wheeler, noting to the judge that another witness had also testified seeing an angry Abshire put his hand to a woman's throat.
During the proceedings, Abshire–- handcuffed, shackled, and wearing the orange-and-white-striped uniform of the Central Virginia Regional Jail–- sat expressionless, leaning occasionally to whisper to his attorney and periodically glancing at the Swartzes, who sat in the courtroom's front row staring intently at their former son-in-law.
Brother Jesse Abshire–- named along with Eric, their cousin Mark Madison, and Allison Crawford in a wrongful death suit filed by the Swartzes–- sat through the hearing and offered brief testimony: that his brother might be able to regain employment if released and that their grandfather might post bond.
Defense attorney Charles Weber disputed the prosecution's attempt to paint Abshire as a violent predator– noting that Abshire has never been convicted of a felony and that a misdemeanor conviction for resisting arrest dates to 1998, when Abshire was "22 or 23." A 1998 assault and battery charge was certified to a grand jury, then dropped when the male victim in that case was unavailable to testify.
Following the judge's bail refusal, Steve and Heidi Swartz express relief that Abshire will remain in jail. "I think he belongs there, and I do think he's a potential danger to other people," says Heidi Swartz.
"The message is really about women involved in relationships that aren't good for them," says Steve Swartz. "Clearly, our daughter was involved with a person who was not good for her, and in my opinion, he did not care about her. As this case proceeds, it will be more and more evident."
Abshire's arraingment is scheduled for March 3.