Strangler found guilty

Steve Frederick Walshaw, 40, was found guilty of first-degree murder Tuesday afternoon by a jury that recommended a life sentence.

There was a collective gasp from on-looking friends and family members as the verdict was announced.

While the defense agreed that Walshaw, of 9324 Woodlea Court, Manassas, had strangled his live-in girlfriend Jan. 23, they disagreed on the degree to which Walshaw should be held responsible. Defense attorney Michael Devine argued for a manslaughter conviction instead of a murder conviction during the two-day trial.

Devine argued that a “Dear John” letter Karen Tegeler left for Walshaw in his sock drawer caused such emotion that Walshaw strangled Tegeler, 33, in the heat of passion. Heat of passion is the requirement for a manslaughter conviction, rather than a murder conviction.

“Words alone do not give rise to heat of passion,” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney D. Scott Bailey argued.

Bailey argued that Tegeler’s death was premeditated. Between finding the letter and Tegeler’s death, Walshaw had gone outside, smoked, gone back into the bedroom, lay down next to Tegeler and put an arm around her before strangling her, Bailey argued.

The defense rested Tuesday morning without bringing an anticipated psychologist to the stand. They presented no witnesses or evidence.

“What is obvious is that after reading the letter, [Walshaw] went back inside, lay down beside a sleeping woman, and he decided to kill her,” Bailey said. “That is not reasonable provocation. That is a violent individual.”

“Mr. Bailey would have you believe that someone receiving a ‘Dear John’ letter after a three-year relationship wouldn’t be emotional,” Devine said. “But we’re talking about matters of the heart.”

Devine read the entirety of the letter to the jury in his closing argument. When the jury began to deliberate, the letter went with them as part of the evidence, along with autopsy photographs of Tegeler and a video of Walshaw’s confession to Manassas police. The jury deliberated for about four hours before finding Walshaw guilty of murder.

Neither the prosecution or defense presented additional witnesses or evidence during the sentencing phase of the case.

“You tell this court and this community what you feel to be just and right for the murder of Karen Tegeler,” Bailey told jurors before they returned to sentencing deliberations.

Defense attorneys reminded jurors that Walshaw had been repentant and cooperative, and asked for mercy.

The jury deliberated about an hour and a half before returning with their recommended sentence: life imprisonment.

Prince William Circuit Court Judge Richard B. Potter can accept that sentence or reduce it, but he cannot exceed it. The minimum sentence for first degree murder is 20 years’ imprisonment.

Potter will sentence Walshaw Feb. 6.