Shooter given two life sentences; girlfriend and fetus survived

Page News and Courier

LURAY, May 3 ― A Page County man who prosecutors say shot the woman pregnant with his child in order to avoid paying child support will serve two life sentences without parole.

As the sentence was handed down Wednesday afternoon in Page County Circuit Court the defendant remained straight-faced. Just prior, Matthew David Furlow, 27, took the stand to maintain that although he changed his plea to guilty during his second day of trial on Feb. 14, he was not the trigger-puller.

“I think that the evidence is overwhelming in establishing Mr. Furlow's guilt,” Judge Clark Ritchie said, before speaking directly to Furlow. “I do not believe that Mr. Shifflett was the one who pulled the trigger in this case. I think you did.

“The moment that you shot the victim in the head the first time would be enough to support conviction and sentence on most of these charges,” Ritchie continued. “But what's also valid is what you did after the first shot, and what you did is you shot her again.

“And then you kicked her in the belly, and then you kicked her in the face, you called her names and eventually you pistol-whipped her in the face that you had just destroyed.”

For attempted capital murder and the malicious wounding of a pregnant woman, Furlow was given two life sentences without parole. He was additionally sentenced to 10 years for conspiracy to commit capital murder; 10 years for abduction by force/intimidation; 10 years for grand larceny; five years for attempting to conceal a body; and a total of six years for two counts of use of a firearm in commission of a felony.

In total, Furlow was sentenced to two life sentences without parole, plus 41 years. He was additionally ordered to have no contact with the victim or her family.

In court on Wednesday, Ellen Piepenbrink took the stand to recount the April 3 and April 4, 2016 events, when she says she was lured to the roadway of Peach Orchard Road, near Luray, by Furlow and Raymond Lee Shifflett, 22.

Piepenbrink, who was 20 at the time, had recently told Furlow that she was pregnant with his child, she testified.

“He basically told me to get rid of it,” Piepenbrink said. “'Get rid of it, or else.'”

Instead Furlow showed a change of heart on April 3, Piepenbrink continued, inviting her to his house for reasons she said she thought included discussing the possibilities of a life together.

Investigators said during an Aug. 11 preliminary hearing that Shifflett, who also lives on Peach Orchard Road, arrived at Furlow's house earlier in the evening, and the men began planning how to kill Piepenbrink, at times discussing the plans while Piepenbrink sat in the next room.

Throughout the course of several interviews, investigators testified, Shifflett said that Furlow shot Piepenbrink, while Furlow claimed Shifflett pulled the trigger because he was “upset because [Piepenbrink] wouldn't date him.”

Around 11:30 p.m. on April 3, Piepenbrink said, she walked from Furlow's house to the roadway with Furlow and Shifflett, who told her they were meeting someone for a ride. Around that time, she felt a blow to her head.

“My vision went out. My hearing went out,” Piepenbrink testified, adding that when she “came to” she was laying in the roadway on one side of her face. She then described watching Furlow circle her body before shooting her in the head a second time, at which point she said she began to play dead.

Piepenbrink described being dragged facedown by Furlow and Shifflett across the gravel roadway, through a ditch and to a wooded area filled with briars and barbwire. Concerned because of her pregnancy, said Piepenbrink, she at one point rotated her body in an effort to protect her stomach, prompting Shifflett to question if she was still alive. With one eye open, said Piepenbrink, she held her breath and continued playing dead as Furlow crouched down to hover his face closely to hers.

In the wooded area, Piepenbrink continued, Furlow cut off her shirt and sweatshirt in 30-degree weather, hit her in the face with the gun, then kicked her in the face and stomach.

Page County Commonwealth's Attorney Ken Alger asked Piepenbrink how she was able to remain composed throughout the incident.

“I honestly do not know. I question that myself,” said Piepenbrink. “As long as they kept believing that I was dead, I had a chance.”

Furlow then told Shifflett that they would return later to bury the body, Piepenbrink said, adding that she continued playing dead after they left, fearful that the two men were watching her.

“I laid there for an hour, an hour and 30 minutes, in the brutally cold weather in my underwear and sports bra, and reality began sinking in and I was basically just trying to accept that I was going to die.”

Eventually, said Piepenbrink, thinking of her unborn child, she decided, “I have to at least get up and try.”

She recounted struggling to stand, falling down repeatedly, running into a barbwire fence, then following the fence line to a residence about 450 feet away, where she banged on a basement door. When no one answered, said Piepenbrink, she hid in a shed to “rest,” before climbing stairs to knock on a door at the upper level of the residence.

Three hours after being shot, Page County deputies were called around 2:17 a.m. April 4, 2016, to the residence. Piepenbrink was transported to the U.Va. Medical Center in Charlottesville with life-threatening injuries.

Those injuries included a broken jaw and several broken bones in her face, she said, in addition to the loss of her left eye and a bullet that remains lodged in her head. Doctors were unable to remove it at the time, said Piepenbrink, because she was pregnant.

Piepenbrink described the ongoing pain she suffers as a result of that bullet, her mouth being wired shut, as well as being unable to be treated with pain medicine because she was pregnant. Her medical bills so far total more than $100,000.

After leaving the hospital, she said, she herself removed a second bullet that was lodged in her neck when it began to migrate toward the surface.

“I really don't like to look in the mirror,” Piepenbrink said. “If I take any photos, I only like it to be of the side of my face.”

“Is there a moment in your life when you don't think about this?” Alger asked.

“No,” she said.

Furlow, showing no emotion throughout Wednesday's proceedings and often looking away during Piepenbrink's testimony, maintained during his testimony that it was too dark the night of the incident for Piepenbrink to “make observations” and that Shifflett pulled the trigger.

Prosecutors maintained that Shifflett, who is scheduled to be sentenced on May 17, gave statements to investigators throughout the case that align with Piepenbrink's account. Alger also noted evidence collected by investigators, including a firearm with its serial number scratched off that was found inside a rubber boot in Furlow's garage.

Investigators in February testified that they were able to link the gun to Furlow using a hidden serial number that was detected by a state lab. The knife used to cut off Piepenbrink's clothing and four unspent hollow-point rounds consistent with the casings found on the roadway were also retrieved from Furlow's residence.

“It defies human life that someone would survive this,” Alger said in his closing statements, in which he asked Judge Ritchie to hand down two life sentences. “Mr. Furlow has a lot to say, but you know one thing that he never says is 'I'm sorry.'

“There is no compassion in this man, and there should be no compassion in this court.”

For his part, Furlow told the court he is glad Piepenbrink and the child survived.

“I still love the girl,” he said. “I'm really glad that God saved the baby and her that night.”

As Ritchie handed down the life sentences in a silent courtroom, he emphasized that Piepenbrink ― who sat in the room embraced by friends throughout the proceedings ― will be affected the rest of her life. He noted Piepenbrink's love for her daughter, who was born at 9:55 a.m. on Nov. 23, “who in many ways went through this with her,” he said.

“She was driven almost exclusively by her love for her child,” said Ritchie. “The baby will grow up knowing that her mother loved her enough to fight and cling for survival in a set of circumstances that it is truly amazing that she lived.

“And that baby will also grow up knowing at some point that her father was willing to murder her mother to keep her from being born.

“That's tragic.”

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