Investigator fights to keep Durham woman locked up for 1988 murder
Posted March 7, 2012
Updated March 8, 2012
Durham, N.C. — More than two decades after a high school baseball coach was killed while he slept, a Durham County Sheriff's Office investigator remains committed to keeping the man's wife in prison for his murder.
Russell Stager, a baseball coach at what was then Durham High School, was fatally shot on Feb. 1, 1988. His second wife, Barbara Stager, told authorities she accidentally jostled a gun he kept under his pillow, and the gun went off, killing him.
A jury didn't believe Barbara Stager's story, deliberating for less than an hour before convicting her of first-degree murder in 1989.
The case became the subject of a book, "Before He Wakes," and a television movie.
The former Sunday school teacher is serving a life sentence and gets her second chance at parole next week after being denied her release three years ago.
Maj. Ricky Buchanan of the Durham County Sheriff's Office said Wednesday that he went with Russell Stager's family this week to ask a member of the state Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission not to release Barbara Stager.
"I told him, in all my years of experience, she's the most cold-blooded killer I've ever encountered, and she is right where she needs to be," Buchanan said.
He still keeps evidence from the case in his office, including the gun and illustrations that prosecutors used at trial.
"She was above and behind him when she pulled the trigger. It could not have happened the way she said," he said.
Buchanan said he believes Barbara Stager killed for financial reasons. He points to a signature on a will that he says doesn't match Russell Stager's handwriting.
"We can't prove that she signed Russ' name, but we can prove Russ didn't sign it," he said.
Part of the evidence against her was the fact that her first husband, Larry Ford, also was killed in his bed in what she said was another accidental shooting.
Randolph County authorities ruled Ford's death an accident and have never found additional evidence to file any criminal charges in the case.
Barbara Stager, 63, declined a WRAL News request for an interview.
Buchanan describes her as a predator and said he believes if she is free she could kill again.
"She is a dangerous person. She is cold-blooded, and she kills without remorse," he said.