The McLean couple testified that they had no idea why they were being held hostage in their own home. A man claiming he was a law enforcement officer had forced his way in, bound them, and subjected Leo Fisher and his wife to a strange and rambling interrogation over three hours.
But in a flash, the nightmarish ordeal reached a climax. The intruder peppered Fisher with one final round of questions as he sat on the couple’s bed after forcing his wife, Susan Duncan, into a nearby bathroom.
“He jumped on top of me,” Fisher told a Fairfax County courtroom Tuesday. “He put a pillow on my head and slit my throat.”
Duncan testified that she came running into the bedroom screaming. She said she then watched the intruder turn his attention from her husband to her. The man raised a gun and pointed it directly at her.
“I felt the bullet, and I fell,” Duncan testified, describing how the shot grazed her scalp before lodging in the ceiling. She said the man then began repeatedly stabbing her in the upper body until she played dead.
The harrowing testimony was the couple’s first public comments about what happened inside their upscale home in early November during a vicious, bizarre incident that a prosecutor had previously called a “torture session.”
It came during a preliminary hearing for the alleged perpetrator, Andrew Schmuhl, and his wife, Alecia Schmuhl, the alleged accomplice. Prosecutors have said the Springfield couple hatched the attack as revenge for Alecia Schmuhl being fired from Fisher’s Arlington law firm, Bean, Kinney & Korman, weeks earlier. The Schmuhls were both lawyers.
A judge determined Tuesday that there was enough evidence for the case to move forward to a grand jury. The defense did not offer any testimony.
Through tears, Fisher and Duncan told the judge that the attack began with the ring of a doorbell on a quiet Sunday evening. Members of the firm, where Fisher is a managing partner, sat stone-faced and riveted on the courtroom’s benches.
Fisher told the judge that it was about 6:15 p.m. when he went to answer the door. As he opened it, he testified, Andrew Schmuhl forced his way inside the home and used a stun gun on him. Fisher said that he fell to the floor and that Schmuhl zip-tied his hands and feet.
Susan Duncan came to see what was going on, and she was also bound, according to testimony. Fisher and Duncan told the courtroom that Schmuhl identified himself as an officer from the “Virginia SEC” and held out a badge.
Fisher, who testified that he had also been stabbed in the back of the head, said that he asked why Schmuhl was there and that Schmuhl told him that he was conducting a probe into an e-mail Fisher had sent about a bounty Fisher had placed on the head of a drug cartel member. Fisher testified that he had never sent such an e-mail and was baffled by what Schmuhl was talking about.
It was the first in an increasingly unusual series of comments and questions Schmuhl allegedly lobbed at Fisher and Duncan.
Fisher testified that Schmuhl then took him and Duncan into their master bedroom and pulled the blinds shut, saying he feared snipers might be outside who would shoot him in the back.
Schmuhl asked whether the couple kept large amounts of cash in their home and who would succeed Fisher at the firm; he also queried Fisher about the Knights Templar, a medieval military order, according to the testimony.
Fisher said Schmuhl forced him to log into his work e-mail at one point and searched his inbox. He said that he was unsure what Schmuhl was looking for but that Schmuhl seemed to grow upset when he could not find it.
Fisher said he had hired Alecia Schmuhl at Bean, Kinney & Korman. He said that she had initially showed promise but that her performance deteriorated and that he fired her just weeks before the attack.
News of the incident shocked the local legal community and friends of the Schmuhls. Alecia Schmuhl speaks three languages and served on the board of the Arlington-Alexandria Coalition for the Homeless. Andrew Schmuhl is a former Army judge advocate.
After Fisher and Duncan were stabbed, Duncan testified, she crawled across the bedroom and reached an alarm on the wall. That sent Schmuhl fleeing, she testified. Prosecutors say he hopped in a car, driven by Alecia Schmuhl, outside the McLean home.
County police said they arrived at the home about 10 p.m. and, believing that Fisher might not survive, took a “dying declaration” from him that described his attackers. Police then initiated a massive search for the Schmuhls, who were soon arrested after a short pursuit.
Officer Daniel Custer testified that he found the Schmuhls driving south on the Capital Beltway toward their home. “Mr. Schmuhl exited the passenger seat wearing nothing but what appeared to be an adult diaper,” he testified.
The Schmuhls have each been charged with two counts of malicious wounding and abduction by force. Alecia Schmuhl has also been charged with felony eluding and obstruction of justice.