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Kenneth Manuel STEWART Jr.





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide
Number of victims: 2
Date of murder: May 12, 1991
Date of birth: 1955
Victims profile: His wife, Cynthia Schultz Stewart, and his 5-month-old son Jonathan
Method of murder: Shooting (.25-caliber pistol)
Location: Bedford County, Virginia, USA 
Status: Executed by electrocution in Virginia on September 23, 1998

clemency petition


Kenneth Stewart, Jr.

In May of 1992, Kenneth Stewart, Jr. was sentenced to death for the May 1991 murders of his wife, Cynthia and his son Jonathan.  He was 36 at the time of the crime. 

Stewart and his wife had separated before the crimes and Stewart was restricted in his visitation of his son.  Stewart was not allowed to be alone with Jonathan, being only allowed to visit him with the presence of Cynthia and he was never allowed to leave the house with him.  He was frustrated with his situation, both with his visitation privileges, and his marriage.  He had hoped that he and his wife could resolve their differences and  get back together. 

On the day of the murders, Stewart went over to the house to discuss  the possibility of reconciling with his wife.  When she refused he shot her.  He then killed Jonathan who had been downstairs at the time of the crime.  Stewart claims that the murders were committed out of anger and frustration and were not premeditated acts. 

He believes that the Commonwealth never proved that he intended to kill Jonathan upon going over to the house.  However, the Appellate court ruled that the “heat -of-passion defense is justified only where the killing arises upon reasonable provocation” and because they did not find that Cynthia’s rejection of Stewart reasonable provocation, they denied his appeal. 

Stewart also believes that there was not enough evidence to meet the “future dangerousness” requirement necessary for administering the death penalty.  The psychological expert for the Commonwealth, Dr. Centor, did not use any of the statements made by Stewart during their interviews when ascertaining his future dangerousness. 

Instead he based his opinion on the crime, his previous record and his psychological tests.  Stewart appealed on the grounds that  "it is absurd in the extreme to assume that" Dr. Centor did "not base his opinions on 'disclosures or statements by Defendant during the interview.'

The Appellate court disagreed with Stewart and rejected his appeal. 

Kenneth Stewart, Jr. entered death row on  May 7, 1992 and was executed on September 23, 1998.


Kenneth Stewart appeared to have turned his life around when he married Cynthia Schultz in 1986. No more drug or alcohol abuse. A steady job. Then came the biggest sign of all -- the birth of Kenneth and Cynthia's son, Johnathon Edward.

But soon after, the couple started fighting, then separated. On Mother's Day 1991, Stewart visited his wife and son in the Huddleston farmhouse they had rented from her parents. He pulled a .25-caliber pistol from his boot and shot her twice in the head. Then he walked downstairs to Johnathon's yellow playpen and fired 2 shots into the 5-month-old's head. 

Stewart chose to die by electrocution rather than lethal injection. 

Stewart declined to be interviewed, but his trial lawyer said the choice may have been a way for Stewart to express remorse for what he did. "Every day on earth is torture on him," Bedford public defender Webster Hogeland said. "Now he's asking to be killed in the most torturous way he has available to him. He wants it to be horrible on him."

On Mother's Day, Stewart went to visit Johnathon. Tucked in his boot was a .25-caliber pistol. According to court statements by Stewart, he went over to try to talk Cynthia into working things out. When she rejected him, he shot her. Then he went downstairs and shot Johnathon in his playpen. He carried Johnathon's body upstairs and placed him in Cynthia's arms. He hopped into Cynthia's car and drove to New York. Just before leaving the Huddleston area, he threw his pistol into some tall grass on the side of a road.

Ruth Schultz discovered the bodies later that day. She had stopped by to thank her daughter for an African violet Cynthia had given her as a Mother's Day gift. Prosecutors argued that Stewart knew what he was doing when he shot his wife and son. 

Prosecutor Jim Updike described to the jury how Stewart positioned his dead son in his dead wife's arms and smoked Marlboro cigarettes after the killings. Updike showed jurors pictures of Johnathon's body. Ed and Ruth Schultz decided not to witness the execution of their former son-in-law.  Ed Schultz said before the execution, "I really don't want to offer him any condolences." 

The couple from Smith Mountain Lake expressed satisfaction in 1992 when a jury sentenced Stewart to death. Schultz said he and his wife did not want to talk with reporters anymore. Schultz said only that he and his wife will be glad when the execution is done. "My daughter -- we haven't stopped thinking about her," Schultz said.


Statement by Governor Jim Gilmore

Regarding the Execution of Kenneth Stewart

Sept. 23, 1998

RICHMOND -- "Kenneth Stewart shot and killed his wife, Cynthia Schultz Stewart, and his 5-month old son, Jonathan Stewart. Two experts, a defense psychiatrist and a psychologist who assisted the prosecution, concluded that Stewart was sane at the time he murdered his wife and son and mentally competent to stand trial. A jury convicted Stewart of first-degree murder of his wife and capital murder of his son, as well as two charges of using a firearm in the commission of these murders.

The jury sentenced Stewart to life imprisonment for the murder of Cynthia Schultz Stewart and death for the murder of Jonathan Stewart.

The trial judge imposed the jury's sentences after reviewing all of the evidence. Stewart's actions before, during and immediately after the murders strongly support the jury's conclusion that Stewart acted deliberately and consciously, and that he premeditated the execution-style murders. There has never been any question as to Stewart's guilt. The convictions and death sentence were upheld on numerous appeals.

"Upon a thorough review of the Petition for Clemency, the numerous court decisions regarding this case, and the circumstances of this matter, I decline to intervene."


Virginia man chose to die in electric chair

September 24, 1998

In Jarratt, Virginia, 44-year-old Kenneth Manuel Stewart Jr. was put to death in the electric chair. In 1991 he shot his wife and son each twice in the head, then arranged the bodies in bed so that the boy was cradled in his mother's arms.

Stewart said he had been upset about restrictions placed on his visits with his son.

Stewart, a born-again Christian, said he elected to die in the electric chair as opposed to lethal injection because death row inmates choosing lethal injection must be strapped to a gurney with their arms outstretched, in the same manner that Jesus died on a cross.

"They can shoot me, hang me, or do what they want to but I won't die with my arms outstretched, you know, like the son of God," Stewart said in an interview on the eve of his execution.

Stewart made no final statement before he was strapped into the oak chair at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, about 55 miles south of Richmond.

He was fitted with a metal helmet and leg clamps attached to electric cables that delivered the fatal surges of electricity.

Stewart was the first to die in the state's electric chair since April 1994 when the Richmond area's "South Side strangler," Timothy Spencer was executed. Death row inmates in January 1995 were given the option of dying by lethal injection.

Stewart, who had a history of abusing drugs and alcohol, said he had stopped drinking and turned to God to straighten out his life. But he said he lost control after losing his job and family in early 1991.

Stewart was the ninth death row inmate executed in Virginia this year and the 55th since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the death penalty to resume in 1976. Virginia's toll is second highest in the nation, trailing only Texas with 158.


Kenneth Manuel Stewart Jr.

Stewart, 44, became the 1st state prisoner to die in the electric chair since April 1994. He was pronounced dead at 9:11 p.m. at the Greenville Correctional Center.

Less than 4 hours before the execution, Gov. Jim Gilmore denied Stewart's request to order a brain scan and a separate petition for clemency.

Before Wednesday night, Virginia's electric chair had not been used since the state law was changed to give death row inmates the choice of electrocution or chemical injection. Stewart chose electrocution.

Stewart was convicted of capital murder in the May 1991 slayings of his estranged wife, Cynthia, and 5-month-old son, Jonathan. He shot each twice in the head, then arranged the bodies in bed so that the boy was cradled in his mother's arms.

Stewart said he had been upset about restrictions placed on his visits with Jonathan, whom he could see only at their home in Bedford County when Mrs. Stewart was present. The night before the murders, he took too large a dose of an antidepressant and was drinking, he said.

2 weeks ago, when Stewart chose to die in the electric chair instead of by lethal injection, he was asked why he would not choose a more humane way of being put to death than the chair. He responded, "There ain't no humane way to put a human being to death if you stop and think about it."

Stewart was asked how he could kill his son, and said that "you take anger, and you don't deal with it. And that'll fester for a while and it turns into rage. And then you take rage and mix that with jealousy and pour some alcohol over that and it just turns you into a madman. I just came completely unglued" that day.

Virginia started electrocuting instead of hanging inmates in 1908. In all, 246 men and 1 woman died in the chair at the former Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond.

An additional 13 men were executed in the chair after it was moved to the Greenville Correctional Center in 1991.

State law was changed on Jan. 1, 1995, to give inmates the option of dying by injection on a special gurney that stands near the electric chair in the death chamber. All 30 men executed since then chose lethal injection.

Timothy Spencer was the last man executed in the chair before Stewart, on April 27, 1994.

The Virginia Department of Corrections describes the chair as "simply a homemade oak armchair with leather straps attached." It is believed to have been built in the 1960s. A new electrical mechanism was installed when it was moved to Greenville.

"The electric cycle, 1,825 volts at approximately 7.5 amps for 30 seconds, then 240 volts at approximately 1.5 amps for 60 seconds... a 5-second pause intervenes, and the cycle is repeated, was designed to render the condemned brain dead within the 1st few moments. The function of the remainder of the cycle is to stop the body's organs so that a physician can certify that death has occurred," the department said.

Sources: Richmond Times-Dispatch, Associated Press, CNN and Rick Halperin.



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