Virginia Beach judge allows accused hitman's guilty plea to be withdrawn in murder-for-hire case, trial moves forward

richard stoner in vb circuit court.jpg
Posted at 4:10 PM, Sep 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-17 17:21:09-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – A double murder case from 2004 is being heard in Virginia Beach Circuit Court this week.

29-year-old Lois Schmidt and her seven-year-old son, Jonathan Vetrano, were killed in June 2004 at a home on Newcombe Road.

In addition to their shootings, Lois’ brother, Morgan Bloise, was also shot; however, he survived. Two family dogs were also injured in the shooting and one of them died.

According to authorities, the home was on fire and when firefighters responded, they discovered there had been multiple shootings.

The case went cold for years. Then in 2018, Christopher Schmidt and Richard Stoner were arrested. Court documents show that one piece of evidence is a disc that contains a recording of Stoner calling the Cold Case Line.

Schmidt and Stoner have been in custody, and this week, they both had hearings in Virginia Beach Circuit Court.

Stoner had requested to withdraw his guilty plea. Judge Steven C. Frucci seemed reluctant at first, but after arguments on Wednesday, he decided to allow Stoner to withdraw the plea.

The defense argued that Stoner pleaded guilty, and that part of the deal was that he could not receive the death penalty. However, Governor Ralph Northam signed a law that took effect July 1, 2021 that abolished the imposition of the death penalty in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“It’s the first hurdle in what is sure to still be a long process in determining the outcome of this trial,” Stoner’s attorney Matthew Morris said.

Though Wednesday’s motion hearings were held in two different courtrooms with two different judges, the case all centers around Lois and her son's deaths.

During Christoper Schmidt’s hearing, the Commonwealth wanted to question Stoner, which was not planned. However, he had already returned to the jail. After a brief recess, it was decided that Stoner could not take the stand because he had recently taken medication that could affect his abilities.

Virginia Beach Circuit Judge James Lewis called attorneys back into the courtroom on Friday afternoon, after hearing more arguments on Monday and Wednesday in a murder-for-hire case.

The continued hearing on Friday centered on whether Stoner could be deemed as unavailable since earlier in the week he seemed uncooperative and pleaded the Fifth Amendment.

The defense argued a witness would need to be physically unavailable, and that was not the case.
Judge Lewis said he had to agree with Christopher Schmidt’s defense attorney, James Broccoletti, and that Stoner would be called to testify as a witness during the trial which is scheduled to start in just over a week.

The Commonwealth’s attorney, Janee Joslin, said to the judge, “You can’t compel Stoner to testify. That would be violating his constitutional rights.”

If Stoner is uncooperative, prosecutors plan to ask the judge to make admissible a transcript from Schmidt’s preliminary hearing a couple of years ago in which Stoner testified at length.

The trial is currently scheduled to start on September 27.