Zachary Saunders

KINGWOOD, W.Va. (WBOY) — On Thursday, the jury was presented with evidence that John Uphold, who was murdered in March 2021, “absolutely fought for his life” and heard from the accused’s fiancée who was originally charged in the murder.

The trial is for Zachary Saunders who was charged with the murder of Uphold, his stepfather, last year. Uphold’s body was found covered in blood with his skull visible from blows to the head. On Thursday, Cpl. William Crawford who captured both the scene of the murder and the autopsy, Captain Travis Tichnell and forensic expert David Miller all testified.

Tichnell said that Uphold’s body showed signs of a struggle; he has bruises and cuts on his forearms, hands, thighs and knees which Tichnell said were signs of self-defense. “John absolutely fought for his life in the parking lot,” he said.

Earlier in the day, forensic expert David Miller listed items and samples that were collected from the murder site and Saunders’ home as evidence and which items had blood on them. Miller said that the bat, which is a possible murder weapon in the case, did not have blood on it, but not all murder weapons have blood on them, Miller explained.

Items that did have blood on them include Saunders’ clothing, the sample from Saunders’ living room floor, a towel and an additional pair of jeans from Saunders’ home, the fender of Uphold’s truck, and samples from the rear tires of the truck.

Both Tichnell and Miller highlighted the hair samples that were taken from the victim’s hands but said that nothing on Uphold’s body indicated DNA evidence from Saunders.

Stephanie Heath’s mugshot from March 2021

In the afternoon, Zachary Saunders’ fiancée, Stephanie “Michelle” Heath—who was originally charged in the murder but had the charges dropped—took the stand. Saunders and Health have been together for 21 years, have a daughter together and, at the time of the murder, had been building a home on some of the victim’s land.

While Heath was on the stand, the state questioned why the family had moved into their far-from-finished home just two days before the murder when they didn’t even have running water; the couple had been living with the victim and his wife. They further questioned why Heath had sent her daughter to stay with her mother on the night of the murder for the first time in a while.

The state then showed Heath photos of meth taken in her home. She first acted like she didn’t know what the substance was but eventually admitted that she and Saunders had snorted meth and taken suboxone on the night of the murder.

When Heath was questioned about the bat, she said that she hid it behind the wall on the night of the murder, but previously, she had told law enforcement that she put it there months prior.

The bat as it was found in the wall after the murder and photographed by Cpl. William Crawford. (WBOY image)

Heath also said that she believed that the victim—Uphold—and his wife Rhonda were trying to kill her and Saunders. She also refused to admit that Saunders was involved in a conversation where he and her stepfather talked about beating up Uphold, and said that she believes her stepfather is the killer.

The trial will continue on Friday.