Evidence testing still awaited in Wheeling student’s death
WHEELING – Ohio County Prosecutor Scott Smith isn’t sure whether his office will be ready to present its case against two men accused of murdering Wheeling Jesuit University senior Kevin Figaniak to the grand jury when it meets next month.
Figaniak, 21, died of head injuries he allegedly suffered during a Labor Day weekend altercation with 22-year-old Craig Tyler Peacock and 24-year-old Jarrett Mathis Chandler that began outside a local bar.
Both defendants are from out of town and had been staying at a Valley Grove campsite frequented by employees of the natural gas industry, where police arrested them Sept. 3.
Peacock, a Clewiston, Fla., resident and Chandler, of Winnfield, La., each are charged with second-degree murder in connection with Figaniak’s Sept. 1 death.
The grand jury is set to convene Jan. 13. Though he did not rule out presenting the case to the grand jury this term, Smith said his office is still awaiting test results on evidence sent to the West Virginia State Police Crime Laboratory in Charleston for processing. He declined to comment on the nature of that evidence, however.
“We’re still following up with law enforcement on the investigation. We’ll just have to see what happens and make decisions at that point,” Smith said.
The crime lab – which is located in Charleston and examines evidence for every law enforcement agency in West Virginia – has had issues in recent years with a backlog of cases. Smith doesn’t believe there’s been any undue delay in the Figaniak case, however.
“The crime lab has been very cooperative when we indicate there’s a need for things to be prioritized,” he said.
Peacock and Chandler remain behind bars on $1 million cash-only bond at the Northern Regional Jail in Moundsville, where they have been held since their arrests. Smith stressed they are “innocent until and unless proven guilty” in court.
According to court documents, police identified the two suspects based on witness interviews, video surveillance footage and social media.
During Peacock’s Sept. 12 preliminary hearing, a Wheeling detective testified that Figaniak and another WJU student were returning to campus from Ye Olde Alpha late Aug. 31 when they encountered Peacock, Chandler and a third man, Tyler Witty – who has not been charged with a crime – outside the Owl’s Nest, located on Edgington Lane about 400 feet away around the corner from Ye Olde Alpha.
A verbal argument reportedly ensued, leading Peacock, Chandler and Witty to follow Figaniak and his friend 938 feet onto Locust Avenue. Figaniak’s friend, who police said was intoxicated and provided a short, barely legible written statement, reportedly told investigators he was either punched or thrown to the ground.
Peacock reportedly was wearing square-toed boots the night of the fight, which a coroner said could have caused one of Figaniak’s three head injuries.
According to court documents, Peacock and Chandler reportedly admitted getting into a fight with Figaniak, but told investigators it was Figaniak who initiated the altercation. A nearby witness also told police he saw the surviving victim try to lift an unconscious Figaniak, who slipped from his friend’s grasp and struck his head on the sidewalk.
Chandler waived his right to a preliminary hearing and in exchange, the prosecution agreed to turn over its evidence early to public defenders Shayne Welling and Keith Hart, who since have been replaced by Wheeling attorney Donald Tennant as Chandler’s counsel. Typically, prosecutors aren’t required to reveal their evidence to the defense until after a suspect has been indicted.
Per the agreement, however, that evidence cannot be shared with co-defendant Peacock’s attorney, Robert McCoid, as Peacock elected to go through with his preliminary hearing.
Both Peacock and Chandler face prison terms of 10 to 40 years if convicted of second-degree murder.
Figaniak was a senior business major at WJU and played on the school’s hockey and lacrosse teams. He was a resident of Perkasie, Pa., about 35 miles north of Philadelphia.