Shelia Eddy Sentenced to Life With Mercy

Published by Daleen Berry on


I can’t say how many expressions passed across Shelia Eddy’s face from the time she walked into Judge Russell Clawges’ courtroom until she took her seat and began sobbing, but I can tell you she’s one of the most difficult people to read I’ve ever seen during the 25 years I’ve been covering criminal trials.

What does one say when a girl of 18 pleads guilty to first-degree, premeditated murder? Yes, it means the victim’s family doesn’t have to suffer the agony of a long and drawn-out trial. I’m not sure it gives us much else to cheer about, though.

Shelia Eddy and her defense attorney, Michael Benninger, appeared in court Friday when Eddy pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.

What about the fact that, in this country, a juvenile cannot receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole? If that juvenile has taken another human life, then shouldn’t the law dictate her life be spent behind bars—without any hope of freedom?

Today Eddy did what it’s been rumored she would do for some time: she pled guilty to intentionally killing Skylar Neese. Eddy didn’t so much tell the court—Eddy didn’t speak at all about what she and co-conspirator Rachel Shoaf did—she simply pled guilty to all of the charges Clawges read from his bench. Eddy said she understood what the charges meant. She said no one had pressured her to plead guilty. She said her legal representation was good.

She “said” all that in the form of “Yes, Sir,” and “No, Sir,” when the Judge asked her.

The most troubling part of today’s plea hearing, for me and many in attendance, was in what Eddy didn’t say: She didn’t say “I’m sorry.”

That left most of us wondering why. You plead guilty to first-degree murder, to planning to kill your best friend, but when you’re given a chance to prove your remorse—if you have any—you remain silent.

This is the Eddy we’ve come to know, the girl we’ve heard so much about from people closest to the case. As we’ve worked on this book for the last seven months, we’ve heard one person and then another say that Eddy has not once indicated she killed Skylar. Instead, she has maintained her innocence throughout—until today.

Which is, or was, fine, given that the U.S. justice system treats all defendants as innocent until proven guilty. But here’s the thing: As a reporter, when you dig into cases like this one, you come to learn more than you anticipated. You’re in possession not just of bits and pieces of information, but of specific details that lead you to your own impression about a defendant’s innocence or guilt.

Such turned out to be the case two weeks ago, when I read Eddy’s criminal case file. (It’s a matter of public record, so you can do the same.) At that time, I knew why the prosecution seemed to think they had an airtight case—they did. All their ducks in a row, so to speak. Upon leaving the Monongalia County Circuit Clerk’s office, I wasn’t sure how her defense attorney could defend her.

In the end, he couldn’t. Attorney Michael Benninger told the court as much today. “I have found negligible if any basis . . . to develop a defense,” Benninger said. After digging through West Virginia and even United States case law, Benninger said he found nothing that would allow him to mount a reasonable defense for his client.

He tried to do so, after looking through “every piece of paper, video and audio,” he received about the case, after extensive meetings with or talking to his client or her family about 30 times. In the end, though, he realized “there was little more that I or anyone else could do for this young lady.”

There didn’t seem much to say after that. Clawges accepted Eddy’s plea. And in a case that has sometimes seemed to drag on and on and on, today’s hearing continued at warp speed. After the court heard from Skylar’s father, Dave Neese, and her aunt, Carol Michaud, Eddy was sentenced. (She waived her right to a pre-sentencing investigation.)

Dave Neese holds hands with his wife Mary Neese during the proceedings. Mrs. Neese’s sister, Carol Michaud sits by Mr. Neese. FBI victim’s advocate, Tessa Cooper, sits by Mary. (Photo credit: Ron Rittenhouse of the Dominion Post.)

If the hearing wasn’t serious enough before, the family’s statements certainly brought home the gravity of what Eddy’s actions led to: “My life and my wife’s life has been drastically altered. We are no longer a family.” Those were the words Dave Neese spoke, heartbreaking ones for many in the courtroom to hear.

Carol’s words were equally sad, and serve as a solemn reminder that the loss of a child equals the loss of the next generation, as well. Carol said “she’s taken hopes and dreams from my sister” because Mary Neese was cheated out of seeing Skylar go to prom, graduate high school, or get married. With Skylar’s murder, Mary also lost any chance of becoming a grandmother, Carol said.

Many people in the courtroom openly wept at Carol’s words.

No doubt Clawges was touched by what amounted to a victim’s impact statement, but in the end, his hands were tied. The prosecution asked for life with mercy for Eddy. Citing a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Miller v. Alabama, which says sentencing juveniles to life without mercy is unconstitutional, Clawges issued his sentence.

When he told the courtroom that meant Eddy would be eligible for parole in 15 years, Clawges stressed that the law allows for nothing less. In short, everyone’s hands are tied.

He was equally quick to inform Eddy that while she will be eligible for parole then—that does not mean she will find herself on the road to freedom that soon. That is a decision for the parole board.

As we’ve worked on this book, one of the constant questions was whether a lesbian element was involved. Or if that could possibly be the motive for murder. Many teens of both sexes today experiment with same-sex relationships. But if Shelia and Eddy did, it hardly seems a reason for them to kill Skylar.

Prosecutor Marcia Ashdown didn’t discuss this, but she alluded to there being more involved. The murder occurred, she said, after Eddy and Shoaf began to distance themselves from Skylar. They feared their friendship would dissolve and, if that happened, they were “worried that Skylar would divulge their secrets. The kind of secrets girls have and (Ashdown paused here) other things.”

Ashdown also confirmed a rumor we’ve heard for awhile now, that sometimes in June, Eddy and Shoaf finalized their plan to kill Skylar. They put that plan into action on July 6, by concealing kitchen knives beneath their clothing, taking along a shovel to help bury their intended victim, and clean clothes to change into afterward.

They lured Skylar into Eddy’s vehicle, drove to the Blacksville, W.Va., area, and crossed the state line into Pennsylvania. They went to an area familiar to all three girls, where they then counted down, and then “both stabbed Skylar multiple times,” Ashdown said.

“Skylar fought back and tried to run but she was overcome by her attackers,” she added.

Skylar Neese


Because of the nature of “this horrific and vile crime,” the prosecution said it had one other request: “We are asking you here, today, to sentence this defendant to adult prison, for her very adult crime.” Ashdown said Eddy should not be returned to a juvenile facility, especially since she’s now 18.

Judge Clawges agreed with the request, and said that as soon as a bed becomes available—be it tomorrow or a month from tomorrow—Eddy is to be placed in an adult prison.

Because Skylar was lured from her home, Eddy was charged with kidnapping, which is a federal crime. The same thing is true for crossing state lines, since Skylar was taken from West Virginia but killed in Pennsylvania. In return for Eddy’s plea today, Pennsylvania and federal court systems both agreed to dismiss any pending charges they have against her.

There are so many, many more details that I could go into here—but time and space limit me. The best I can do is offer a thorough and extensive examination of all of today’s court proceedings and more in our upcoming book. This includes the motive for Skylar’s murder, and whether a lesbian relationship was at the heart of it.

BenBella Books, our publisher, has selected the title. The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese will be available as an ebook in late February. In addition to the above, we hope it also provides a look at problems within today’s families, the average teen’s use of social media, and why a savage crime like this happened at all.

* * * *

My next book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, comes out November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”


Daleen Berry

Daleen Berry (1963- ) is a New York Times best-selling author and TEDx speaker who was born in sunny San Jose, California, but who grew up climbing trees and mountains in rural West Virginia. When she isn't writing, she's reading. Daleen is also an award-winning journalist and columnist, and has written for such publications as The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, and XOJane. Daleen has written or co-written eight nonfiction books, including her memoir, "Sister of Silence," "The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese," "Pretty Little Killers," "Cheatin' Ain't Easy," "Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang," "Shatter the Silence," and "Appalachian Murders & Mysteries," an anthology. In 2015, West Virginia University placed "Sister of Silence" and "Guilt by Matrimony" on its Appalachian Literature list. You can follow her blog here: https://www.daleenberry.com. Or find her on Facebook and Twitter, as well as email her at daleen(dot)berry(at)gmail(dot)com. She loves to hear from readers.

15 Comments

Ida · January 25, 2014 at 6:06 AM

Both of these young woman should GET LIFE WITHOUT MERCY TO BAD WV DOESN’T HAVE THE DEATH PENTALY. Since Eddy could not say she was sorry or even speak, she will never say it at her parole hearing either. I am sorry the Neese family didn’t get more!!!

Nancy Eddy · January 25, 2014 at 9:36 AM

How horrific for all involved..and my heart goes out to the parents of all the girls here…truly I pray that they can find peace in their hearts someway , somehow as time goes on…and try to find forgiveness for if they hold on to it, it will only kill them..as hard as it may be….Help us all when we fail…

Betty · January 25, 2014 at 5:01 PM

she needs to be there until it is time for her to be under the ground just like Skylar is now she deserves no freedom

Gennie · January 25, 2014 at 6:55 PM

I am very close to someone that loves this family. We don’t live the story everyday or even every month. We do know what they are going through in loss. The actual agony of it being a murder is not ours to know, thank God. I am relieved that these folks are closer now than ever before of putting this unmentionable crime just a bit further to the side. May God’s will be done.

Rebb · January 28, 2014 at 1:34 PM

Shelia is 18, but committed the crime as a juvenile. I agree with the case law cited it is inhumane not to specify “mercy” in a life sentence for a crime committed as a juvenile. This does NOT mean that I sympathize with her. But she was not an adult. Now that she is 18, I do agree, she should go to adult prison. She will be eaten alive there and come out a more hardened criminal, but there really is no other choice. I am proud WV does not have the death penalty. A West Virginia resident

jen · January 16, 2015 at 12:16 AM

Im disgusted how these two girls could kill their best friend. They had no remorse when they left her to die in the middle of nowhere. These two girls are still alive while the family of the deceased has to live this nightmare daily. Knowing that they will never see their daughter again. Tragic story. Hope shelia and rachael rott in prison

Krystle · April 24, 2015 at 4:33 PM

The most disturbing detail to process in all of this is how emotionally detached these girls were when they actually committed the crime. No remorse shows no mercy and these girls deserve worse than what transpired but justice will be served when they have to face God on judgment! I pray for all parties involved lord have mercy.

Anita · May 11, 2015 at 8:06 PM

Is there any chance that both of them will not get parole? i found a website where petitions are signed in support to cancel the eligibility of paroles to two girls? i have signed that petition anyway . they dont deserve to live free for the evil crime they have done.Its not a mistake but a sin,a pre planned murder .they have to be behind bars.

Brianne · June 2, 2015 at 12:50 PM

“I read Eddy’s criminal case file. (It’s a matter of public record, so you can do the same.)”

How? How? How? Where? Where? Where?

I am all revved up to read it, but alas! After hours and hours of searching, all I can find are useless “procedural manuals” and prompts to enter my credit card information.

WHEW!

    Daleen Berry · August 19, 2015 at 10:04 PM

    Brianne, so sorry for the delay. I was in the hospital when you wrote. Okay, Monongalia County, WV, does not have criminal court records on file. So you either have to call the circuit clerk’s office and see if you can pay for them to mail you copies or you have to drop in and look through the records yourself. (It’s expensive to make copies.)

Daniela Ferraz · December 27, 2015 at 4:49 PM

This case shocked me a lot! and my opinion (as always) is: those girls deserved life in prison WITHOUT parole! mainly Shelia Eddy.
They can’t get out of prison and i hope they NEVER do.
Shelia – mainly – is a danger to society.
Skylar didn’t deserve what happened to her!
Justice can’t be so stupid in release them.
They can’t commit the same mistake, like done in Missy’s (Michelle Avila) case. The murderers Karen Severson and Laura Doyle are free now.
Monsters like these must be locked in cages from rest of their lives.

Graham · December 7, 2017 at 11:03 PM

They were just kids, not realizing the gravity of the situation. In the book Pretty Little Liars it did say that shelia didn’t understand that she couldn’t use her phone or social media anymore. She seemed to be playing out one of her CSI shows, not knowing the true nature of the crime until she got caught. I hope she gets out in time to have a family and a chance at a somewhat normal life. I am sure she is remorseful now as Skyler was her best friend. Probably regrets it now as she probably misses her friend dearly.

Jay Janney · September 1, 2019 at 6:22 AM

“What about the fact that, in this country, a juvenile cannot receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole? ”

The idea of justice being that severe is an Americanism. In many other countries, for under 18s (say in Europe) they would have gotten lower prison sentences.

However I’m (an American) totally OK with the sentences these women got.

» Pen in Hand, I Begin 2015 By Looking Back at 2014 · January 1, 2015 at 5:32 PM

[…] the case and its related legal proceedings. (But make no mistake, although some of the details from my blog were used in the book, less than one percent made it into Pretty Little Killers.) If you aren’t […]

» When Silence Interferes With Healing · November 6, 2015 at 8:54 AM

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