With chains around her wrists, waist and ankles, Elisabeth E. Gunter, 44, appeared first at the 3 p.m. hearing before Associate Circuit Court Judge Don Henry with her attorney, public defender Steven Lynxwiler of Doniphan.
During interviews with investigators, Gunter and her boyfriend, Dennis Ray Woodward, 46, both of Norwood, accused each other of stabbing Joy Dishneau, 63, in the neck at Dishneau's home-based business, Naturally Enchanted.
Both admitted going to Dishneau's Highway 160 home to rob her.
Crying softly, Gunter sat in the first row of jurors' chairs when about 10 visitors filed into the courtroom.
From the middle of the courtroom, Gunter's daughter called to her, "It's going to be all right, Mama."
Gunter looked over at her daughter, but said nothing. In custody since her arrest in Assumption, Ill., on Jan. 9, Gunter was dressed in a bright orange jumpsuit with her long hair braided behind her and tied with a white cloth bow. Gunter has a 2-inch tattoo of a crucifix on her forehead and down the bridge of her nose.
At least two of Gunter's children were in court, plus about a half dozen reporters and a few onlookers.
Gunter and Woodward are being held in the Howell County Jail in West Plains on $2.5 million bond each. Both are charged with first-degree murder, robbery, armed criminal action and tampering with a motor vehicle. They face a maximum of life in prison or the death penalty if convicted.
According to court records, Gunter and Woodward admitted to going to Dishneau's Highway 160 home late on Jan. 1 or early on Jan. 2 to steal money and other goods. The couple said they wanted money to buy some land for themselves.
Gunter and Woodward are accused of breaking into Dishneau's home, stabbing her twice in the neck and then stealing $50 cash, a 42-inch flat-screen TV, computer, digital camera and a "black book" of property deeds and vehicle titles. Gunter also allegedly stole Dishneau's Jeep, which was recovered Jan. 3 in Ozark County.
Gunter knew Dishneau, having worked with her at Naturally Enchanted when the business was on Washington Street in downtown West Plains.
Dishneau closed Naturally Enchanted in September 2011 after two local business groups petitioned the West Plains City Council with as many as 200 signatures to request that the city revoke Dishneau's business license. The council took no action.
The petitioners said Naturally Enchanted, which sold incense, candles, statues and K2, a synthetic marijuana (until it was banned by the state last year), attracted bad clientele. Shoplifting, petty theft and vandalism increased after the business opened, the petitioners said.
Naturally Enchanted is described on Facebook as being a nature and spiritual shop that offers "a completely new line of Herbal Incense that is not even being discussed in the State or Federal legislatures. This is cutting edge, third generation!"
Kasey Coe bought the business from Dishneau in October 2011, opening it as Daze of New. Shortly after Dishneaus' murder, Coe closed the store. A large cloth sign hangs in the front window, decorated with a peace sign and memorial tributes written in ink by about six of Dishneau's friends.
Gunter opened a similar incense-type business, The Enchanted Circle, in Assumption last summer.
The following is taken as written from the store's online Facebook page:
"this shop is to bring some culture in to the area The store front is the brightest thing in Assumption you can't realy miss it We sell clothes, incense, incense burners, jewlry, herbs, oils, fairys, ex. We also have "Freedom" which is a lab certified legal herbal incense for 18 and older."
Online court records indicate Gunter filed for an order of protection against Dishneau last fall regarding issues involving The Enchanted Circle.
The petition said Dishneau had taken over Gunter's business, "which is located in a store owned by son, Timothy West." Gunter was listed as disabled. A judge denied the petition, but scheduled another hearing, which did not take place.
Christian County, Ill., sheriff's deputies spoke with Gunter and Dishneau in September 2011 regarding the property dispute. Both claimed title to the Assumption business property, according to online news reports.
When Judge Henry entered the courtroom, Gunter's daughter said from the audience, "I have a question, Judge."
Henry told her she could not speak at that time.
The hearing began with Lynxwiler saying he filed a motion to continue Gunter's case because Gunter has "mental health issues" that cannot be addressed while she is in jail.
Lynxwiler said it is no fault of the jail, but that Gunter has been out of care from her West Plains psychiatrist while in custody, and may be schizophrenic, among other issues.
"We noticed a change in her demeanor," Lynxwiler said of Gunter's time in jail.
Lynxwiler told Gunter, who was shaking and exhaling loudly, that she could come down from the juror's box and be seated at the defense table.
"I don't think I can," Gunter said. "I don't think I can stand."
Lynxwiler said Gunter is not able to assist counsel in its defense in her current mental state. He said Gunter does not necessarily need to be committed to a mental health facility, but needs medication that may be prohibited by the jail.
Howell County Prosecutor Michael Hutchings said he has no reason to believe Lynxwiler is stalling or misleading the court. Hutchings said he would leave it up to the court whether to continue Gunter's case for a few weeks.
Henry said it appeared Gunter could not assist counsel in her present condition. Possibly, after she is given her medications, the case can get back on track, he said.
Gunter's case was continued until 9 a.m. March 5.
Gunter's daughter then asked if she could ask her question. "Can I give her a hug?" she asked.
Gunter's attorneys said she would have to leave the courtroom to do that.
When Gunter left the courtroom at 3:15 p.m., Woodward was brought in, also wearing an orange jumpsuit and bound in chains. Woodward sat next to West Plains public defender Donna Anthony at the defense table facing Henry.
The hearing began with Howell County Sheriff's Department investigator Al Jones explaining the murder scene and identifying Missouri State Highway Patrol photographs taken of Dishneau's body.
Jones said Dishneau's body was on her living room floor, with the pockets of her pants pulled out. A back door had been broken into.
Jones said Woodward was a suspect early on, and authorities first went to Woodward's Norwood home to talk with him. They then met at the Cabool Police Station for a formal two-hour interview.
Woodward told authorities that he tried to get into Dishneau's home, but it was locked, so he went back to his truck.
Woodward told investigators Gunter was talking to her son on her cell phone, when he heard her say that Dishneau had been shot. Woodward also said Gunter told him she "stabbed Joy Dishneau with a dagger."
Probable cause statements indicate Woodward sharpened the dagger before the two went to Dishneau's home. They also brought along two pair of rubber gloves.
Woodward told investigators that he didn't enter the home, but helped Gunter load the Jeep with stolen items before he followed Gunter as she drove the Jeep to Patrick Bridge in Ozark County.
There, they unloaded the Jeep and left it, bringing the stolen goods to Woodward's Norwood home, Jones testified. Woodward helped Gunter build a fire to burn the black book, he said.
"What was the significance of the black book to Elisabeth Gunter?" Anthony asked Jones.
Jones said the book contained a deed for property that Gunter was looking for.
No other witnesses were called. The hearing adjourned at 3:35 p.m.
Anthony asked that the preliminary hearing be continued five days so she could review a late-arriving pathology report.
Henry set the continued hearing for 8 a.m. Feb. 16.