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High court upholds Tewalt’s strangulation conviction

Denies circuit’s lifetime protection order for victim

KINGWOOD — The State Supreme Court has upheld the conviction of Steven Tewalt and denied his motion for a new trial but reversed a part of the lower court’s ruling.

The high court said it was inappropriate for Preston Circuit Court Judge Steve Shaffer to grant Tewalt’s victim a lifetime protective order against Tewalt.

Tewalt, 46, of Kingwood, argued the circuit court didn’t have the authority to issue the order. The appeals court agreed.

In March 2018 Tewalt was indicted by the Preston County Grand Jury on a charge of strangulation. The incident occurred in November 2017.

During the trial, the state also presented evidence of a September 2017 complaint of strangulation made by the same victim. In the appeal, Tewalt’s attorney, Jeremy Cooper, argued that evidence should not have been allowed at trial.

The higher court rejected the argument, saying Judge Shaffer conducted the proper hearings and reviews before admitting the evidence at trial.

Tewalt also argued that the prosecution “failed to prove an essential element of the crime of strangulation, under West Virginia Code § 61-2-9d, in that it did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim suffered a ‘restriction of air intake or blood flow’ which caused her loss of consciousness, substantial physical pain, illness or impairment of physical condition.”

The victim could have lost consciousness when Tewalt slammed her to the floor, striking a table and shelves in the process, the appeal argued. Her neck pain could have been from carrying hay bales and her hoarseness from shouting.

The supreme court did not agree.

“Reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, we have little doubt that a rational trier of fact could conclude that Mr. Tewalt’s choking the victim caused her loss of consciousness; moreover, a rational juror could conclude that [the victim’s] subsequent pain, as well as her difficulty speaking and swallowing, resulted from the choking rather than from some other source.”

In April 2019 Judge Shaffer sentenced Tewalt to one-to-five years in prison.