By Erin Donaghue CBS/AP October 24, 2018, 12:57 PM Michigan man leads police to wife's body; officials deny rewarding him with Xbox
KALAMAZOO COUNTY, Mich. — The Michigan Department of Corrections is refuting media reports they agreed to an inmate's demand for an Xbox in exchange for him leading investigators to the body of his long-missing wife.
The inmate, Doug Stewart, was convicted in 2011 of killing his estranged wife, Venus Stewart, who disappeared the previous year from her parents' home in southwestern Michigan. Doug Stewart had long maintained his innocence in the killing, but on Monday he led authorities to a burial site in a wooded area in Kalamazoo County where Michigan State Police say they discovered Venus Stewart's remains. He'd left two stumps at the site as a landmark.
"I knew I couldn't forget where she was," he said in an interview with CBS affiliate WWMT at the burial site Monday, as authorities excavated for the woman's remains.
He confessed to the station that he'd lain in wait and ambushed her at her parents' house.
"I can't understand my mindset back then," Stewart said in the interview. "It was almost like I was on a mission."
Authorities have been visiting with Stewart annually since his sentencing to try to get information about the body's location. Chris Gautz, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections, confirmed to CBS News that Stewart did make a list of demands to his department that included an Xbox. But, Gautz said, the gaming devices were already planned for the specialized 140-inmate unit for military veterans where Doug Stewart is housed. He said the gaming units, all donated, haven't yet been installed and need to be retrofitted so they can't access the internet. He said violent games won't be allowed and the warden still needs to determine how prisoners will be able to access the devices.
Gautz said the department checked on the status of the Xbox installation after Stewart made the demand, but insisted he would have had access to the devices anyway because of his placement in the specialized unit. Gautz said corrections officials encouraged him to cooperate with investigators. He said all of Stewart's demands for special privileges, including that he be allowed to attend his parents' funerals when they die, were denied.
"We don't give incentives or rewards for doing the right thing," Gautz said.
Doug Stewart was living in Virginia when Venus Stewart disappeared in April 2010. Venus Stewart had moved in with her parents in Colon, Michigan, after accusing her husband of domestic violence and molesting their daughter, according to police reports.
Doug Stewart was convicted of first-degree murder in 2011, based largely on the testimony of Ricky Spencer, who told authorities that he had been persuaded to impersonate Doug Stewart while Stewart drove to Michigan.
In the interview with WWMT, Stewart admitted to ambushing his wife outside her parents' home and choking her until she lost consciousness.
He told the station he had already visited a wooded site in the hours before the attack.
"I had come here the night before. I had planned for this to be the spot," Stewart said.
He said he drove his unconscious wife to the private field surrounded by woods near Fulton. He said the woman regained consciousness, and he admitted to killing her and carrying her body into the woods where he buried her. He said he immediately regretted it.
"I don't know how I did it," he said. "I just can't believe I did it."
Stewart told the station he began considering telling the truth about the killing around Christmas of 2017 when his sister began to reconcile with his wife's family. He said he hopes to make amends with the family.
"I let them know I didn't want this burden on the family or even selfishly myself. I didn't want it anymore," he told the station. "It's a horrible pain knowing you're hurting people. Even beyond the crime you committed."
Michigan State Police said they persisted in finding the location of the body for the victim's family.
Michigan State Police Detective Sgt. Todd Peterson told the station: "It was purely for them that we kept going in the hopes that someday we'd locate her remains and give them some closure."
In a statement posted on Facebook, the Venus Foundation, a group dedicated to finding missing people founded in Venus Stewart's memory, said they are happy the remains have been located but "saddened by the killer getting his additional 15 minutes of fame."
Stewart continues to serve a life sentence.