Jury acquits man in death of Wheeling Jesuit student

WHEELING, W.Va. — Almost one year after he was first accused of killing a 21-year-old college student, Craig Tyler Peacock, 22, stood quietly in a courtroom Friday, awaiting his fate.

Judge James Mazzone read the verdict, informing Mr. Peacock that the jury found him not guilty in the death of Wheeling Jesuit University senior Kevin Figaniak.

Mr. Peacock turned to his attorney, tears welling, and gave him a hug.

“I feel a lot better than I was,” Mr. Peacock said minutes later outside the courtroom. “A lot better.”

The 12-member jury deliberated for less than 45 minutes Friday before delivering the verdict.

Mr. Peacock of Clewiston, Fla., had been charged with murder in the death of Mr. Figaniak, of Perkasie, Bucks County. Mr. Figiniak’s family sat quietly. His mother clutched her rosary, and his brother clutched a pile of used tissues as the judge read the verdict.

“We did it,” some said, followed by audible gasps and sighs of relief.

Mr. Figiniak’s family walked quietly out of the courtroom. They declined to comment.

Mr. Peacock was charged with murder after Mr. Figaniak, a lacrosse athlete who would have graduated last month with his business degree, died of head trauma after a street fight Aug. 31.

Prosecutors declined comment after the trial and said the Figaniak family did not wish to speak with reporters.

Both sides delivered closing arguments earlier Friday.

According to testimony, Mr. Peacock and his two companions met Mr. Figaniak and his friend, Tyler Johnson, 22, of Columbus, on a Wheeling street after a night out drinking.

Mr. Peacock told a crowded courtroom Thursday that he pursued Mr. Figaniak in hopes of hearing an apology after an alleged insult regarding Mr. Peacock’s work as a shale worker. A brawl ensued when Mr. Figaniak pushed 24-year-old Jarrett Chandler, who was with Mr. Peacock that night.

“The Figaniak family should have been in Wheeling last month to watch their son graduate college,” prosecuting attorney Shawn Turak said during closing arguments. “Not here. Not now. Not this week. Not for their 21-year-old dead son.”

Prosecutors contended that Mr. Peacock purposefully kicked Mr. Figaniak in the head as he lay unconscious on the ground after Chandler punched him.

Mr. Peacock’s defense countered, alleging a member of his group spun Mr. Peacock around and off the ground as he lay atop Mr. Figaniak’s friend, Mr. Johnson, punching him repeatedly. As Mr. Peacock stepped over Mr. Figaniak, his boot might or might not have come into contact with the left side of Mr. Figaniak’s face, though he was not sure, according to testimony.

Chandler, of Winnifield, La., pleaded guilty in January to involuntary manslaughter for his role.

Defense attorney Robert McCoid argued that Mr. Figaniak died as a result of the fall to the ground after the punch and that his client was not responsible for his death.

“My position has been all along that this has never been a murder case,” Mr. McCoid said. “I’ve been around for a while and seen a lot of things. This is one of the most irresponsible prosecutions I have ever seen.”

Mr. Peacock lamented for the situation as he addressed reporters.

“I feel really, really sorry for what had happened,” he said. “Really sorry.”

After the trial, Mr. Peacock said he planned to return to Florida. At about 2:30 p.m., a pickup truck full of Mr. Peacock’s childhood friends exited a nearby parking garage. He and his father followed close behind. That night, they would all eat dinner together, a friend said.

Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com. Michael Majchrowicz: mmajchrowicz@post-gazette.com. First Published June 13, 2014 1:38 PM

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