Local News

Victim's family urges parole board not to release killer

Posted March 3, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

— The family of a former Durham High School coach who was slain two decades ago met Tuesday with state parole officials in an effort to keep his killer behind bars.

Russell Stager 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 while he slept.

Barbara Stager in 1989 Wife up for parole 20 years after killing husband

Prosecutors didn't believe Barbara Stager's story, and a jury convicted her of first-degree murder in 1989. 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.

Russell Stager's slaying and the sensational murder trial of his wife was chronicled in a 1994 book, "Before He Wakes," and a television movie by the same name.

Barbara Stager's death sentence was overturned on a procedural issue, and the life sentence she subsequently received made her eligible for parole after 20 years.

Russell Stager's family drove from Tennessee to meet Tuesday morning behind closed doors with the state Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission to express their opposition to Barbara Stager's release.

"In my opinion, I feel like 20 years of rehab still doesn't equal the fact that he wasn't given a chance after she killed him – after she murdered him," Cindy Stager Thomas, Russell Stager's sister, said after the meeting. "The murder she committed completely destroyed my parents' and my life."

Doris Stager, Russell Stager's mother, said the pain of his death hasn't faded with time.

"It's very hard on me. I live with it all the time. You can never get around it," she said.

The Stager family said they knew they eventually would have to make the trip to Raleigh to plead with parole officials not to let Barbara Stager out of prison, but Thomas said that didn't make the trip any easier.

"It's very, very, very, very difficult. I didn't want to face the day of having to come here and do this," she said.

Capt. Ricky Buchanan of the Durham County Sheriff's Office, who investigated the case, and Eric Evenson, the former assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case, also spoke to the commission about why they feel Barbara Stager, 60, should remain in prison.

"She, in cold blood, killed an innocent man," Evenson said.

"I've put a lot of killers in jail over the years, and this is one I think that should remain exactly where she is at," Buchanan said.

The parole commission is expected to rule in May on her release.


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  • henry1943 Mar 4, 2009

    I still am having a problem with the ex wife and prosecutor being so scared for her release.she has not been charged with trying to kill police or other people who have accused her in the past.Again i wonder if she has been NIFONGED by those are scared for her to be paroled.If i truly felt she got a square deal and was tried properly and evidence had not been created,then I would also like for her to spend the rest of her life in the worst of jails but i feel someone has vowed to get even with her for beating the death of her first husband.Somehow this case is beginning to smell like the recent OJ Simpson trial.If she is guilty,I hope GOD will let her experience his wrath,If she has been lied on and NIFONGED I truly hope GODS wrath on them will be the greatest ever known.

  • dlb800 Mar 3, 2009

    Hey Riddick,

    Do you think she would even have to go that far to find someone?

    Comeon, take a look at all the people on death row that get married. What kind of nut would want to marry a convicted murderer? Look at all the nuts who wanted to have kids by serial killers! This country is going down, because of the nuts in it.

  • angora2 Mar 3, 2009

    I once knew a woman who killed two husbands in the same way Stager did -- gun under the pillow, oops, BANG. She got by with both! Of course, this was many years ago. Lost track of her after husband # 2 had his head blown off, so who knows what she did after that?

  • hdonthefarm Mar 3, 2009

    Nobody will speak up for her? Tells me what I need to know.

  • wapalmer Mar 3, 2009

    Is the parole board answerable to anyone? She was the executioner of two innocent people. Is there any justification at all for letting her walk?

  • Heatherbrook Mar 3, 2009

    Pair her up with Mike Peterson. See who breaks the tie.

  • holmesap Mar 3, 2009

    This woman has killed two people and is up for parole. What is wrong with the system. You get more time for drugs than murder. Keep her in prison for the rest of her life.

  • Drakula_I_G Mar 3, 2009

    If that parole board has two licks of sense, they'll keep her in prison. They may not 'legally' be able to consider the death of her other husband in very similar circumstances, but you can't legislate the human mind. :-)

  • riddick Mar 3, 2009

    If they do let her out, publish a picture of what she looks like now. Next thing you know she'll be on match.com trying to hook up with the next unsuspecting guy. Yikes!

  • zoocrew1 Mar 3, 2009

    Bo Sox girl. First of all i do agree with you. This woman in my opinion should never be let out. However, the reason she was given parole was at that time when he sentence was commuted the life without parole wasnt an option. When her sentence was commuted the only thing available was life in prison which sadly enough in that time means she is eligible for parole after 20 years.