Grand jury to hear cases against suspects in Wheeling Jesuit University student's beating death

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WHEELING, W.Va. -- Defense attorneys are awaiting two key developments in the August killing of a Wheeling Jesuit University student: a statement from a third man who may have been there that night and more details from a medical examiner's report that they said could shed light on what exactly factored into the victim's death.

A grand jury will hear the cases of Craig Tyler Peacock, 22, of Clewiston, Fla., and his co-defendant, Jarrett Mathis Chandler, 24, of Winnfield, La., likely in January when it next convenes, a judge decided Thursday.

In the interim, Mr. Chandler's public defender, Shayne Welling, said he looks forward to the medical examiner's final report and a statement from the friend who was with his client and Mr. Peacock on Aug. 31 -- the night Wheeling police said an argument that led to a fight resulted in the death of Kevin M. Figaniak, 21.

Wheeling police Sgt. Gregg McKenzie said police are trying to arrange an interview with the third man, who works in the oil and gas industry with Mr. Peacock and Mr. Chandler.

At a preliminary hearing Thursday before Ohio County, W.Va., Judge Joe Roxby, Mr. Peacock's defense attorney, Robert McCoid, said prosecutors presented no proof there was any intention "to slay, kill or murder" Mr. Figaniak.

"It is outrageous, it is ludicrous, to suggest this is a murder case," he said.

Both men are charged with second-degree murder in the beating death of the Wheeling Jesuit senior business major from Perkasie, Pa., between Philadelphia and Allentown.

Mr. Chandler's hearing was waived, so he appeared in court for only minutes. During his preliminary hearing, Mr. Peacock looked forward and did not react when the judge decided enough probable cause existed to send the case to a grand jury, which will decide if criminal charges are warranted.

Wheeling police said a random encounter after a night of drinking led to an argument that turned physical.

Detective Daniel Holmes said video surveillance shows Mr. Peacock cross the street from the front of the Owl's Nest bar and speak to Mr. Figaniak and his friend -- also a WJU lacrosse player whom police have not identified -- who had been drinking at Ye Olde Alpha bar.

In interviews with police, both Mr. Chandler and Mr. Peacock said they and the third man followed the students after they walked away, Detective Holmes testified.

They walked 938 feet to reach Mr. Figaniak and his friend, the detective testified. State assistant prosecutor Gail Kahle pointed out that was the length of more than three football fields and said it amounted to "stalking."

Detective Holmes said Mr. Peacock and Mr. Chandler said Mr. Figaniak pushed Mr. Chandler, starting the fight. In his criminal compliant, the detective wrote that Mr. Peacock said he may have kicked the person he was fighting with.

During cross-examination, Detective Holmes testified that after the suspects left, Mr. Figaniak's friend knocked on the door of a home on Locust Avenue near the site of the attack, and that the resident watched as the friend tried to help Mr. Figaniak up, ultimately losing his grip.

Sitting in the grass, Mr. Figaniak fell back onto the sidewalk, the detective testified.

The medical examiner said a wound on the right side of Mr. Figaniak's head was a contributing factor in his death, and that he suffered at least two more wounds to the back of his head, the detective testified. It was not clear during the detective's testimony Thursday if the other wounds also contributed to his death.

He also testified that the medical examiner said there was "some type of edge" that hit "the back of the head," that could have been caused by a kick from a boot. Mr. Peacock was wearing cowboy boots with a flat toe that night.

Mr. Figaniak died of severe brain injury, and the death was ruled a homicide.

Prosecutors argued Thursday that more than enough evidence existed because the death was ruled a homicide and video evidence places Mr. Peacock near the scene. The detective said he also initially lied in an interview with police about where he was that night.

Detective Holmes testified that Mr. Figaniak's friend, who was not seriously hurt, asked the Locust Avenue resident to take Mr. Figaniak back to campus.

The friend was drunk, the detective testified, and told the resident he would pay him and that he didn't want police involved.

Mr. Figaniak was taken to Wheeling Hospital, then to UPMC Presbyterian, where he died.

Both Mr. Chandler and Mr. Peacock remain in the Northern Regional Jail in Moundsville, W.Va., on $1 million cash-only bond.

region

Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1944. Twitter: @borntolede. First Published September 12, 2013 4:30 PM


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