Judge Refuses to Close Murder Pre-Trial Hearing

WHEELING – Ohio County Circuit Judge James Mazzone on Tuesday denied a motion by defense attorney Robert McCoid to close portions of Craig Tyler Peacock’s pre-trial hearing to the public.

Peacock, 22, of Clewiston, Fla., is charged with murder in the Aug. 31 death of Wheeling Jesuit student Kevin Figaniak, 21, of Perkasie, Pa.

McCoid, at the hearing’s start, argued that several of his motions dealt with the admissibility of certain autopsy pictures that could be considered gruesome in nature. He said holding an open hearing – during which the photos would be made public – could create a prejudice with potential jurors.

“I fully realize the importance of the media and its First Amendment rights, but I am concerned that exposure in the press could jeopardize my client’s ability to get a fair trial,” he said.

Assistant Prosecutor Gail Kahle said the courtroom should remain open to everyone.

“The media represents the people, and the people have a right to know what is going on in this courtroom,” he said. “The court has to find a balance against freedom of the press and the defendant’s right to a fair trial.”

Mazzone sided with Kahle, and ruled the hearing would be open.

At issue was the public display of more than 50 autopsy picture depicting injuries to Figaniak’s head, which may have caused his death. The prosecution claimed the photos are relevant to show cause of death, while McCoid said they are “unduly prejudicial” by the images they project. Kahle argued pictures of the inside of a human body are not inappropriate.

“The human body is not gruesome,” he said. “It is God’s gift to us. It is what it is.”

“I find that to be a fascinating position by the state,” McCoid countered.

During the hearing, both sides reviewed each of the 50 photos and discussed which should or should not be presented to the jury. McCoid also asked the court to not allow photographs being presented to the jury showing the victim when he was alive and well because such photos could bring sympathy in the minds of jurors. He also raised questions concerning the attorneys’ courtroom conduct.

“I’m asking the court to order the attorneys, including myself, to refrain from using facial expressions, snorting or rolling eyes in view of the jury,” he said.

He also asked that Kahle and co-prosecutor Shawn Turak refrain from using inflammatory words when making reference to Peacock during the trial.

Court documents show Figaniak and another Wheeling Jesuit student were walking back to campus late Aug. 31 when they encountered Peacock, Jeff Chandler, 24, of Winnfield, La., and an unidentified third man, who has not been charged.

An argument ensued, leading Peacock, Chandler and the other man to follow Figaniak and his friend onto Locust Avenue where a fight occurred.

During the scuffle, Chandler punched Figaniak in the face, causing him to fall. Peacock then allegedly kicked Figaniak in the side of the head, which police believe caused his death.

On Jan. 30, Judge David Sims sentenced Chandler to one year in jail and fined him $1,000 after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter. The sentence includes credit for time served since Sept. 3.

Chandler could be released from jail April 2 after serving seven months of his sentence. As part of the plea deal, Chandler agreed to testify at Peacock’s April 29 trial.