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Shifflett handed down life, plus 45 years for his role in the shooting of a pregnant woman

Page News and Courier

LURAY, June 14 ― For his involvement in the shooting of a pregnant woman, a 22-year-old Page County man will serve the next 15 years in prison.

The sentence was handed down last Wednesday in Page County Circuit Court to Raymond Lee Shifflett, who prosecutors said throughout court proceedings was not the triggerman during the April 2016 shooting of a pregnant 20-year-old.

Last month Judge Clark Ritchie handed down two life sentences without parole, plus 41 years, to Matthew David Furlow, 27. Prosecutors throughout his court proceedings maintained that Shifflett was recruited as a pawn and manipulated by Furlow before, during and even after the April 3 and April 4, 2016 shooting.

The victim, Ellen Piepenbrink, who along with her child survived, testified that Furlow shot her twice in the head, knowing she was pregnant with his child.

On the second day of Furlow's trial in February, he changed his plea to guilty, but maintained that he was not the triggerman ― a claim both prosecutors and the judge said they weren't buying.

“Mr. Shifflett, I think you understand how serious this case is … and I believe that you were not the primary driving force in this matter, but you certainly were a participant ― and a willing one,” Ritchie told Shifflett in court on Wednesday as he handed down the sentence. “I hope you understand what Mr. Furlow's intent was by having you there that night ― and that was so that you could get his sentence and not yours.”

In total, Shifflett was sentenced to life in prison, plus 45 years, with all but 15 years suspended. He was additionally sentenced to 10 years of supervised probation, as well as ordered to pay $31,914 in restitution to Piepenbrink, who he was ordered to have no contact with.

The sentence reflects a plea agreement the defendant entered prior to Furlow's trial in February. Shifflett was set to take the stand to testify against Furlow before Furlow changed his plea.

According to that agreement, Shifflett pleaded guilty to four of the eight charges he was indicted on in August 2016, including the malicious wounding of a pregnant woman, conspiracy to commit capital murder, abduction and grand larceny. All other charges were dismissed.

“I'm not minimizing that Mr. Shifflett is definitely responsible for a lot of things,” Page County Commonwealth's Attorney Ken Alger told Ritchie. “But what I think is also important, your Honor, is that it's very clear based on statements from Miss Piepenbrink, based on exchanged text messages and physical evidence, that Mr. Shifflett was manipulated the entire time by Mr. Furlow.”

That manipulation, investigators testified, traces back to the weekend prior to the shooting, when Furlow befriended Shifflett, who lived on the same road ― Peach Orchard, near Luray ― after being told by Piepenbrink that she was pregnant with his child.

Furlow then played on what he perceived to be romantic feelings that Shifflett had for Piepenbrink, said prosectors, in an effort to make Shifflett jealous.

The evening leading up to the shooting, Alger said, Furlow provided Shifflett with a steady stream of alcohol, including moonshine.

“He wanted a friend and he thought that Mr. Furlow was his friend, and he trusted his friend,” said Alger.

The Commonwealth's Attorney continued, noting that throughout the April 3 and April 4 incident, Furlow “told him exactly what to do,” which included dragging Piepenbrink's body facedown across Peach Orchard Road, through a ditch and to a wooded area filled with briars and barbwire, where the men left her body after 11:30 p.m. on April 3, with plans to return before daybreak to bury her. Piepenbrink testified that she played dead throughout the incident, motivated by the knowledge that she was in the first trimester of her pregnancy.

Piepenbrink and Shifflett consistently gave aligning accounts of the shooting to investigators, Alger said, adding that Piepenbrink was in “complete agreement” with the conditions of Shifflett's plea agreement.

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys noted Shifflett's history of mental illness and other conditions, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, deficits in short-term memory and low processing and cognitive skills.

Shifflett, who graduated from high school with a modified diploma, consistently “lacked a connection with his peers,” said the defense, and would “go to extreme lengths” for the friends he did have.

“Mr. Shifflett has a good heart but is unfortunately very susceptible to bad influences,” Shifflett's attorney said in court.

The statement was at least in part a reference to Shifflett's involvement in a 2013 string of felony thefts in Page, Shenandoah and Rockingham counties. Shifflett was one of three men who pleaded guilty to stealing a 2004 Nissan Titan and sending it over the Massanutten Mountain, as well as the theft and destruction of a 2000 Pontiac Grand Am. Shifflett was also one of two men charged in Shenandoah County in 2013 for breaking and entering and grand larceny.

Reflected also in Shifflett's plea agreement on Wednesday was the suspension of several probation violations related to those crimes.

For his part in the shooting, Shifflett told those in the courtroom, which did not include Piepenbrink, “I'm really sorry for what happened … I wish I could change things, but I can't.”

After handing down Shifflett's sentence, Ritchie offered the 22-year-old a final remark.

“You will be out of prison in your early- to mid-thirties with a lot of life left to live,” the judge said. “I want to stress to you right now how important, how absolutely imperative it is, that you wake up every morning upon your release from prison with the first thought of your day, 'How do I avoid getting a probation violation today?' Because I do not want to see you back before this court.”




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