Suspects Say We Didn’t Start Fight

WHEELING – The two men charged with murdering Kevin Figaniak each said the Wheeling Jesuit student initiated the fight that allegedly led to his death, a police detective said Thursday.

Magistrate Joe Roxby found probable cause Thursday to bind the cases of Tyler Peacock, 22, of Clewiston, Fla., and Jarrett Chandler, 24, of Winnfield, La., over to circuit court for consideration by the next grand jury.

During Peacock’s hearing, Detective Daniel Holmes testified Figaniak and a fellow WJU student were walking from Ye Olde Alpha to campus Aug. 31 when they encountered the defendants and Tyler Witty outside of the Owl’s Nest. A verbal altercation ensued, and Peacock, Chandler and Witty followed the students 938 feet.

“As they crossed the intersection of National Road onto Locust Avenue, the victim stated as he turned around he was either punched or thrown to the ground,” Holmes testified. “And at that point, he covered his face with both arms and was attacked while laying on the ground.”

Following the fight, a nearby resident saw the surviving victim trying to lift an unconscious Figaniak, Holmes said. The man said he saw Figaniak slip from his friend’s grasp and fall from a seated position, striking his head on the sidewalk. The victim then offered the resident money to help return Figaniak to campus, Holmes said, and asked him to not contact police.

Holmes acknowledged the surviving victim was intoxicated on the night of the attack and provided a written statement of two barely legible sentences. Roxby sustained prosecutors’ objection to defense attorney Robert McCoid’s inquiry about Figaniak’s blood-alcohol concentration.

Chandler told Holmes he was face to face with a man police believe to be Figaniak, when Figaniak shoved him.

“Mr. Chandler said once he was shoved he responded by striking Mr. Figaniak in the face,” Holmes testified. “Chandler stated that Figaniak was knocked out and fell to the ground.”

Holmes said Chandler and Peacock, who was fighting with the other WJU student, fled the scene with Witty. Witty hired an attorney and has not been interviewed by police, but a detective has searched his truck.

Peacock initially told Holmes he spent Aug. 31 at the Valley Grove campsite where he resided before his arrest. He later admitted to being in the fight after the detective disclosed he had video footage of him elsewhere, and that Chandler said he was with him that night. Peacock said Figaniak pushed Chandler, and Peacock was pushed by Figaniak’s friend. Peacock and the surviving victim fought, and Peacock told Holmes “I may have or we may have” kicked someone on the ground, the detective testified.

Neither of the two defendants nor the surviving victim recalls why the men were arguing, Holmes said.

The coroner told Holmes one of Figaniak’s three head injuries was caused by “some type of edge.” Peacock was wearing square-toed boots on the night of the fight, and the coroner said such boots could cause that type of injury.

“I would suggest that there’s a plethora of evidence to show that they had other-than-good intentions when they followed these two young men … to the point where the attack took place, where Kevin Figaniak received the blows that took his life,” said Assistant Prosecutor Gail Kahle.

McCoid called the murder charge “outrageous” and “ludicrous.”

“There’s no proof that Tyler Peacock did anything to intentionally take the life of Kevin Figaniak,” McCoid told Roxby. “There’s no evidence whatsoever in front of you to that effect.”

Chief Public Defender Shayne Welling waived Chandler’s preliminary hearing in exchange for the prosecutor turning over discovery materials prior to an indictment by a grand jury. The defense normally does not have access to the state’s evidence until after that occurs, but the grand jury does not convene until January. Welling is forbidden from sharing that discovery with McCoid.