Jury gives Steinert life for first-degree murder

Published 12:18 pm Thursday, March 28, 2013

by Stephen H. Cowles/Contributing Writer

COURTLAND—Charles Bernard Steinert got a life sentence for the first-degree murder of his estranged wife, Tammy Jo Steinert, on Wednesday in Southampton County Circuit Court. The jury took about 45 minutes to return the unanimous guilty verdict on the third day of Charles Steinert’s trial. However, deliberation for what punishment he should receive for the murder and 10 other charges took about two hours.

In a warrant, detectives said they believed that Charles Steinert, 38, went to his wife’s house with a revolver on June 12, 2010. It was reported that he first shot her uncle, Joseph Michael Wise, in the stomach. Charles Steinert then shot out the home’s sliding glass back door to get inside. He reportedly chased Tammy Jo Steinert and two girls, Jessica Austin and Rebecca Gray, into a bedroom, where he apparently shot and killed his wife; she was 37.

He barricaded himself and the girls, holding them hostage. Austin was Tammy Jo’s daughter from a previous marriage, and Gray was a visiting friend of hers. The girls were released unharmed that afternoon. Charles Steinert surrendered to police later that evening.

In addition to the life sentence, he was given a total of 83 years for the following charges: malicious wounding of Wise; using a firearm maliciously; the abduction of Austin; using a firearm to do so; the abduction of Gray; using a firearm to do so; armed statutory burglary; using a firearm to commit a burglary; the use of a firearm to commit murder; and maliciously discharging a firearm at or within an occupied building or dwelling.

After the jury was dismissed, Barrett Richardson, Steinert’s attorney, asked Judge Robert G. O’Hara to set aside the jury’s verdict of first-degree murder and reduce it to second-degree. Further, he asked that the verdict on the malicious wounding charge also be downgraded. Richardson maintained that his client did not intend to either kill his wife or shoot her uncle.

Commonwealth Attorney Eric Cooke countered that the jury had already considered the defense’s claims and rejected the ideas.

O’Hara denied Richardson’s request, but did acknowledge the defendant has a right to a pre-sentence report, which will be held Tuesday, July 23.

Following the trial, Charles Steinert’s mother, Diane Steinert, declined to comment.

Tammy Jo’s father, Joseph Russell of Scottwood, said he expected the jury members to return a guilty verdict and the sentence they gave was correct.

“The best sound I heard was the word ‘guilty’ 11 times in a row,” said Russell.

A 1990 graduate of Franklin High School, Tammy Jo participated in the band for four years and “did good there,” said Russell. She graduated from Radford University and had decided to study law.

“She had good goals in life,” he added. “She was on her way.”

He remembered that Charles Steinert repeatedly begged his daughter to marry him.

“I guess she just gave up and married him.”

“He just took it all away,” Russell said about Charles Steinert. “He wouldn’t try to solve a small problem, just let it escalate until it came to this. You couldn’t talk to him.”

Russell pinpointed an argument that took place Feb. 10, 2010, as when the couple’s relationship had seriously deteriorated. Charles Steinert also rejected his wife’s plea for them to see a marriage counselor, said Russell, adding he wishes now he had ignored his daughter’s words for him to stay out of their troubles.

“She was a wonderful daughter,” he said.