Shrader pleads to involuntary manslaughter of PCHS freshman; sentencing scheduled for Nov. 16

Page News and Courier

LURAY, June 21 ― A Page County man accused of killing his girlfriend pleaded guilty Tuesday in Page County Circuit Court.

James Lee Shrader, 20, pleaded guilty to five charges, including involuntary manslaughter, use of a firearm in commission of a felony, reckless handling of a firearm, discharge of a firearm in an occupied dwelling and possession of a firearm after being a convicted felon.

At age 14, Shrader was adjudicated as delinquent of an offense that would have been a felony, according to court records.

Shrader was initially charged with involuntary manslaughter, but those charges were elevated in February when he was indicted for second-degree murder. A three-day trial was originally set to begin Tuesday, however, prosecutors opted to offer a plea deal after weighing the odds of a conviction.

Following additional indictments issued against Shrader in March, the 20-year-old had faced seven charges in connection with the shooting death of his 15-year-old girlfriend.

Emergency crews were called to an apartment at 208 W. Main Stanley around 2 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 26. At the time of the incident, Gwynn Fishel, who had recently begun her freshmen year at Page County High School, was in a bedroom with Shrader, who possessed a firearm.

Upon the arrival of the Page County Sheriff's Office, Assistant Page County Commonwealth's Attorney Iona White told Judge Clark Ritchie, Shrader refused to tell deputies where the gun was, later saying the firearm was under a mattress. Medical crews were not permitted to enter the apartment until the gun was secure.

White attributed the delay with “wasting valuable minutes” before Fishel could be treated.

The teen was transported to the U.Va. Medical Center in Charlottesville in critical condition and later died from her wounds just before 1 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 28. Shrader was 19 at the time of the shooting.

According to prosecutors, the pair began dating several months earlier, after Fishel moved to Page County from Stephens City. Fishel's mother did not approve of her daughter's relationship with Shrader, who White described as jobless and homeless.

Fishel joined Shrader as he moved from place to place, staying with people for as long as possible, said White. The assistant commonwealth's attorney added that Fishel's mother allowed it out of fear that she would follow Shrader with or without approval.

Several weeks prior to the shooting, Shrader went target shooting with Fishel and a third person after he'd obtained a .22-calliber revolver. Shrader at one point, said White, pointed the gun to his head and pulled the trigger, knowing that a bullet was in the cylinder, but the gun didn't fire.

During a Sept. 27 interview, Shrader “admitted to investigators to pointing the firearm in the general direction of Fishel,” the night she was shot, loading the same .22-caliber revolver and pulling the trigger twice. The gun then fired, and a bullet struck Fishel in the temple.

Investigators said during a Jan. 11 preliminary hearing in Page County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court that Shrader changed his story several times, first claiming that he didn't know what happened but then saying Fishel shot herself.

Investigators also testified at the hearing that the defendant said he pulled the trigger, checking the cylinder and the hammer, while the gun was pointed at Fishel, but he had forgotten about the live round.

Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 16. Shrader faces up to 10 years for involuntary manslaughter.

Portions of this story were initially reported by Pete DeLea of the Daily News-Record.

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