Multiple brain injuries killed Wheeling Jesuit student, pathologist testifies

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WHEELING, W.Va. — Experts testified on Thursday that multiple brain injuries from a street fight caused the death of lacrosse player Kevin Figaniak, who would have graduated from Wheeling Jesuit University last month with a business degree.

Jimmie Smith, a pathologist and West Virginia's deputy medical examiner who performed Figaniak’s autopsy, testified he suffered a skull fracture on the left side of his head and four other internal head injuries resulting in brain hemorrhaging.

Dr. Smith testified on the third day of the trial of Craig Peacock, 22, of Clewiston, Fla., charged with murder in the 2013 death of Figaniak, 21, of Perkasie in eastern Pennsylvania.

Jarrett Chandler, 24, of Winnifield, La. — who in January pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter for his role in the death — punched Figaniak, who fell to the ground hitting his head, according to testimony.

Moments later, prosecutors allege, Mr. Peacock kicked Figaniak in the head as he lay unconscious. Dr. Smith said that a kick to the head was “consistent with my findings.”

Defense attorney Robert McCoid asked on cross examination if Figaniak’s skull fracture could have resulted from a fall to the concrete sidewalk.

The doctor said, given the hypothetical scenario, he would have to account for the distance from which Figaniak fell. The attorney noted it was from a standing position — falling straight back, striking the concrete.

“Certainly that scenario would account for a skull fracture in that location,” Dr. Smith said.

Mr. Peacock and his two companions, Mr. Chandler and Tyler Witty, 25, of Illinois, encountered Figaniak and a friend, Tyler Johnson, 22, of Columbus, Ohio, on a Wheeling street in the early hours of Aug. 31 after a night of drinking. Mr. Johnson made a remark about shale workers, Mr. Peacock’s profession, that offended him, according to testimony during the trial.

The ensuing brawl, described by prosecuting attorney Gail Kahle as a “fast-paced, frantic, alcohol-fueled situation,” ended with Mr. Peacock atop Mr. Johnson, delivering three or four punches. Mr. McCoid contended that as Mr. Witty whipped Mr. Peacock away, Mr. Peacock’s boot made contact with Figaniak’s head.

In court Thursday, Mr. Peacock maintained he did not recall kicking Figaniak but acknowledged it was possible.

A second forensic pathologist, Gregory Davis, testified that the chin punch delivered by Mr. Chandler was the fatal element of the brawl.

Dr. Davis said he does not disagree with Dr. Smith’s findings in the autopsy but there is no way to state with reasonable probability that the kick would have accelerated the death.

As Mr. Kahle was finishing his questioning of Mr. Peacock, he asked, almost shouting, “Sir, who owes an apology now?”

“I’d say,” Mr. Peacock said, “everyone who was there that night.”

Closing arguments are expected this morning.

Michael Majchrowicz: or on Twitter @mjmajchrowicz. First Published June 12, 2014 2:38 PM

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