October 30, 1948 |
North Carolina, United States
|Criminal penalty||Life imprisonment|
|Conviction(s)||First Degree Murder|
Barbara Stager (born October 30, 1948) is an American woman who was convicted in 1989 of murdering her husband, Russell Stager, in 1988. Stager is also suspected of the earlier murder of her first husband, Larry Ford, who died in nearly identical circumstances.
At 6:08 a.m. on 1 February 1988, the police in Durham, North Carolina got a call from Barbara Stager, reporting her husband had been shot. She told the responding officers that her husband kept a handgun under his pillow when he slept, and that she must have touched it as she stirred in her sleep, causing it to discharge killing Russ Stager. Initially the police accepted this account and ruled the incident an accidental shooting. According to shocked friends, coworkers and family members, Barbara was a devoted wife, mother, and "Christian".
As it turned out, Russ Stager had become fearful for his life, he tape recorded himself, asking questions like: “Why if I was asleep at 3 or 4 in the morning, would Barbara wake me up to give me sleeping pills?” After his death, Jo Lynn Snow, Russ’s first wife, led police to the audiotapes. After listening to the tape, the police re-opened the case. Jo Lynn was also integral in finding evidence of Barbara's stealing from Russ's personal accounts and forging his name on checks and other documents, including his will.
At the conclusion of her trial for first-degree murder on 30 August 1989, the jury deliberated for 44 minutes to reach a guilty verdict, Stager was sentenced to death the next day. In such cases the matter is automatically reviewed by a higher court; in this case the death sentence was changed to life imprisonment (now being carried out at the North Carolina Department of Corrections) due to a technicality in the first proceeding. Stager was given the possibility of parole in 20 years as required by law.
Barbara Stager had a parole hearing in March 2009. She was denied parole at that time and given a new parole review date for 2012. She is currently incarcerated at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women and her next parole review was scheduled to begin August 1, 2015. 
"Till Death Do Us Part: The Barbara Stager Story", is a 2003 episode of A&E's American Justice, which profiled the case. Jerry Bledsoe also wrote a book in 1994 about the case, entitled Before He Wakes: A True Story of Money, Marriage, Sex and Murder, which was later made into a TV movie in 1998 with the same title starring Jaclyn Smith. A&E's City Confidential presented its perspective on the case in the 2003 episode "Durham: Dangerous Housewife". Investigation Discovery's Deadly Women portrayed the story in the 2010 "Fortune Hunters" episode and their Scorned: Love Kills revisited the case in its own "Till Debt Do Us Part," in 2012. The Forensic Files series had an episode "Broken Promises" about this case; Investigation Discovery examined the case a third time in 2015, with an episode entitled "No Accident" in its Fatal Vows series. In 1996, the Discovery Channel's The New Detectives series, Season 1, Episode 20, "Women Who Kill" featured Barbara Stager's crime.
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