New details in Plains murder

2003-08-08T00:00:00Z New details in Plains murderBy ERICKA SCHENCK SMITH of the Missoulian missoulian.com

Allegations of drugs, torture in affidavit

Three people accused of conspiring to kill 17-year-old Plains resident Steven "Bubba" Ash might have also intended to kill two other young men after a drug theft, court documents reveal.

Although 41-year-old Roxanna Lee Shepard, 19-year-old Melvin Roy Green and 18-year-old Eli A. Sayler had all been charged by early last week, information backing up those charges was sealed until Thursday when County Attorney Robert Zimmerman filed papers in Sanders County District Court. An identical affidavit filed in all three cases outlines what Plains Police and the Sanders County Sheriff's Department discovered during several days of intense investigation into Ash's disappearance and murder.

The information in the affidavit contains allegations that have yet to be proven in court. Shepard, Green and Sayler have not entered pleas to any of the crimes they have been charged with.

Ash's body was found in the woods about 10 miles outside town July 28, four days after his mother woke to find him missing from their home.

Liza Ash thought her son might have gone to see his girlfriend early in the morning of July 24, the affidavit said, so she didn't call police right away and went to an appointment in Polson. She later remembered hearing low voices at about 4 a.m. but thought nothing of it, since Bubba Ash's friends had a tendency to come and go whenever they pleased.

The first sign of trouble - a hang-up call to 9-1-1 at 10 a.m. - came from a friend who had spent the night with Ash.

Caleb Russell later told officers that Green and Sayler woke him up and ordered him to talk to Shepard, the affidavit said. They "attacked" him after he told them he had called 9-1-1, and he said he stabbed Green and Shepard in self-defense.

Russell allegedly told officers that he, Ash and another man, Jake Boykin, had stolen about 4 ounces of marijuana from Shepard's house, the affidavit said. And that theft, it appears, started everything.

Sayler's girlfriend told officers she was with Sayler, Green and Green's girlfriend July 21 when Shepard called and talked to the two men. Shepard allegedly demanded that Green and Sayler kill Ash, Russell and Boykin, the affidavit said.

The girls were also present the next day, the affidavit said, when Shepard outlined her plan for torturing and killing the three alleged drug thieves.

The initial plan, according to Green's girlfriend, was to "torture (Ash) to death, wrap him in a tarp with bricks and dump (him) in the swamp at Libby and drown him."

Sayler's girlfriend told police Shepard said they were "all going down" if Sayler and Green didn't commit the murders. "All," apparently, did not include Shepard.

On July 23, the two girls tried to prevent their boyfriends from committing murder by getting them out of Shepard's house, the afffidavit said, but Shepard would not let the two men leave.

On July 24, the affidavit said, Green called his girlfriend once in the morning and once in the evening. The first time he said they had "got" Bubba, and the second time he said Shepard had killed him.

Later that evening, the affidavit said, Sayler told the two girls they had taken Ash to Corona Lake in a pickup. He said Ash fell off the tailgate when Shepard shot him in the back of the head. Then Green fired another shot, behind the ear.

Both men, the affidavit said, talked to their girlfriends about the fight with Russell and about Green getting stabbed.

In an interview July 24, the affidavit said, Shepard told officers she took Green to Ash's house to buy pot from Russell; "things then went bad." Officers had questioned her after Russell described the personalized license plate that read "BUZARD" on the truck his attackers drove.

That afternoon, an officer saw Shepard's truck parked outside the Sanders County Courthouse, the affidavit said. There appeared to be "blood or bodily fluids" in the bed and on the bumper, and the bed was scratched along both sides.

Early the same morning, officers searching Shepard's house discovered a room "that appeared to be used for growing marijuana," the affidavit said. They could see "an imprint of arms and a head" on a wall covered with pollen and "impressions of lips being held to the window as if someone's face had been pushed against (it)." They found what appeared to be blood on the floor, wall and ceiling. They found a bloody pocket knife, clothes in the washer and dryer with "yellowish" bloodlike stains, a T-shirt with blood stains, a piece of rope and a piece of blood-stained sheet. Shepard told them the blood on the sheet was from Russell cutting her.

On July 26, officers found similar pieces of rope and blood-stained sheet among Ash's bloody clothes, the affidavit said. The clothes had been found in Lake Corona - inside a plastic bag, then wrapped in a tarp and weighted with rocks. Another piece of blood-stained sheet was found near Ash's body two days later.

Shepard's daughter, 17-year-old Jennifer Stoner, has since been charged with tampering with evidence. She allegedly admitted burning Green's jumpsuit after finding it at the house she and her mother share. In a July 27 interview, the affidavit said, Stoner said she heard Green and Sayler planning to torture Ash and said she thought his body was somewhere near Libby. She said she had no idea why Ash's clothes were found at Corona Lake, the same place she burned Green's jumpsuit.

Stoner's boyfriend, Tony Wood, told officers Stoner "told him that it has been did or something to the effect that it had been done," the affidavit said. Officers listened in on two phone calls between the two in which Stoner said first to "stick to the story," then refused to tell him any details.

Sayler and his girlfriend were picked up in Butte on July 29, the day after Ash's body was found. Sayler's girlfriend, considered a runaway, was returned to her father in Thompson Falls. Sayler was arrested and charged.

Reporter Ericka Schenck Smith can be reached at 523-5259 or at esmith@missoulian.com

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