3 testify about brawl, Wheeling Jesuit University student's death

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WHEELING, W.Va. — When they finally were able to tune in a newscast that a poor television signal had hampered, the two men came face to face with the Wheeling Jesuit University student with whom they had fought after a night out a few days earlier on a Wheeling, W.Va., street.

Jarrett Chandler and Craig Peacock stared as the image became clearer. The news report continued. The student had died.

“How hard did you kick him?” Mr. Chandler asked his friend, he recalled Wednesday from the witness stand.

The sound of the police knocking on the door came minutes later, Mr. Chandler testified.

In the second day of the murder trial for Mr. Peacock, 22, of Clewiston, Fla., jurors heard testimony from three of the five men involved in the brawl that resulted in the death of 21-year-old Wheeling Jesuit student Kevin Figaniak.

Tyler Witty, 25, who accompanied the defendant Aug. 31, 2013, testified that he was

unsure whether Mr. Peacock intentionally kicked the lacrosse star and business major from Perkasie, Pa., during an altercation after a night out drinking.

“It wasn’t like a field goal kick, and it wasn’t accidental like tripping over someone's head,” Mr. Witty said in a 2013 video interview with police shown in court Wednesday. “I thought it was intentional at first.”

But upon reflection, he’s not sure that it was on purpose, Mr. Witty testified Wednesday.

Mr. Witty, who did not strike anyone and was not charged, also testified that Figaniak and his friend Tyler Johnson provoked the three others as they walked and that Figaniak pushed Mr. Chandler, which initiated the physical contact.

Mr. Witty, Mr. Peacock and Mr. Chandler were working in the oil and gas industry. The fight stemmed from an argument over a comment Mr. Johnson made about workers in that profession.

Prosecutors allege Mr. Peacock intentionally kicked Figaniak in the head as he lay on the ground after the fight. He later died of head trauma at UPMC Presbyterian.

Defense attorney Robert McCoid said in opening remarks that Mr. Witty whipped Mr. Peacock around and away from Figaniak’s friend, with whom he also was fighting. It was then that his client’s boot made contact with Figaniak’s head, he said.

Mr. Witty testified Wednesday that he thought Mr. Peacock might have tripped over Figaniak’s head.

The defense maintains Mr. Peacock did not cause Figaniak’s death.

Mr. Chandler, 24, of Winnfield, La., pleaded guilty in January to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to a year in jail for his role in the death. He testified Wednesday that he punched Figaniak once in the chin, and Figaniak fell to the ground and hit his head.

Figaniak’s friend, Mr. Johnson, 22, of Columbus, Ohio — who fought with Peacock that night — ran from one nearby residence to another, screaming for help after the three men left, according to testimony.

Loud knocks on his front door roused Robert Hartley from his sleep.

“I just need your help to carry my friend back to the college,” Mr. Hartley recalled Mr. Johnson saying. The neighbor refused.

According to Mr. Hartley’s testimony, Mr. Johnson tried moving his friend on two occasions, losing his grip both times. The first time, Figaniak fell forward into the lawn; the second time, Mr. Hartley described the thud of Figaniak’s head hitting the pavement as he fell backward “like a wet noodle.”

The trial will continue today.


Michael Majchrowicz: mmajchrowicz@post-gazette.com. First Published June 11, 2014 1:05 PM


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