WHEELING - Elm Grove Pharmacy employee Stacee Hess on Monday identified Melody Fisher as the woman who came inside the business in late May just moments before an armed Kevin Walnoha entered the store in an attempt to steal prescription narcotics.
Another employee at the pharmacy shot and killed Walnoha. Fisher has been indicted on charges of felony murder, first-degree robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery.
Ohio County Prosecutor Scott Smith said the felony murder charge would be dropped once his office got written notification the West Virginia Supreme Court had finalized its recent ruling that a surviving co-conspirator cannot be charged with an accomplice's murder when a crime victim kills in self-defense.
Fisher, 41, of Beech Bottom appeared in court Monday with her attorney, Stephen Herndon, in an attempt to keep Hess' identification out of a potential trial.
Hess, a pharmacy technician who has worked at the store for 12 years, said she was behind the counter logging prescriptions on May 25 when Fisher entered the store. Fisher inquired about a wrist brace before leaving without making a purchase, Hess recalled.
Video surveillance showed Fisher was inside the store for less than two minutes.
The 37-year-old Walnoha walked through the door moments later, pointed a gun at Hess and another female employee and demanded prescription pills. That is when store owner Anthony Martino appeared from another room and shot Walnoha multiple times, killing him inside the building.
Hess recalled speaking with Fisher in the store parking lot minutes after the shooting while waiting for law enforcement to arrive. Fisher told Hess she had just been inside the building and asked if everyone was OK, Hess testified.
A woman matching Fisher's description kept resurfacing in Hess' conversations with West Virginia State Police in the subsequent hours, which Hess said sparked her suspicion.
"I kind of realized we had been set up," she testified Monday, adding that she believed Fisher entered the store to "scope us out."
The day after the crime, State Police Sgt. Mike Hogan presented Hess with photographs of three women - none of which were Fisher - and Hess said she did not recognize any of the subjects. Hogan showed her a single photograph of three women later that day, and Hess identified one of them - later confirmed to be Fisher - as the woman who was inside the pharmacy.
Police obtained the photographs of the women from Walnoha's Facebook page. Hogan said other ways police obtain photos to place into an identification lineup were not feasible because of the Memorial Day weekend, and they acted with urgency because an armed robber may have been at large. The Rite Aid Pharmacy in Warwood had been robbed at gunpoint days prior and police had not apprehended a suspect.
Herndon also is seeking to suppress some of Fisher's statements to law enforcement.
Cpl. James Dean, a 14-year State Police veteran, testified that he fully Mirandized Fisher prior to his 80-minute interview with her outside of her home a little more than 24 hours after the crime. He returned the following day with a warrant for Fisher's arrest, but conducted another 30-minute interview before advising her of the impending arrest.
"Eventually, I was going to place her into custody," Dean testified. "She was going to be leaving with me."
Herndon pointed out that the warrant commanded law enforcement to arrest Fisher forthwith, and that Dean asked her additional questions before the arrest. Dean only served the warrant after Fisher invoked her right to an attorney, Herndon added.
Fisher's trial is scheduled for Jan. 19.