WHEELING-After spending more than nine months in a West Virginia jail, Craig Tyler Peacock plans to return to southern Florida to resume life as he knew it prior to Aug. 31.
That night, he became involved in a street fight that led to a murder charge in the death of 21-year-old Wheeling Jesuit University student Kevin Figaniak of Perkasie, Pa. On Friday, after a week of testimony and a little over 30 minutes of jury deliberation, Peacock walked out of the City-County Building in Wheeling a free man with his attorney, Robert McCoid, at his side after a jury of six men and six women acquitted him.
When asked if the jail time would hinder his future employment or pipeliner union membership, he said, "Not at all. I plan to go back to work soon."
Photo by Fred Connors/Craig Tyler Peacock embraces loved ones after being acquitted of murder in the death of Wheeling Jesuit University student Kevin Figaniak.
After the verdict, Peacock and McCoid met with reporters in the fifth-floor hallway. Peacock, a 22-year-old from Clewiston, Fla., expressed his appreciation of the verdict, for his family members and loved ones who traveled to Wheeling to support him and for the efforts of his attorney.
"He's a brilliant man," Peacock said of McCoid.
McCoid said his position all along was that this was never a murder case.
"This is one of the most irresponsible prosecutions I have ever seen," he said. "The verdict is a just result."
McCoid said no serious plea talks were ever held since the case began.
"We were grossly apart so there were never any realistic plea discussions," he said.
Ohio County Assistant Prosecutors Shawn Turak and Gail Kahle declined to discuss the verdict.
"This was a hard case," Turak said. "We respect the jury's decision."
Peacock's mother, who declined to comment, and other loved ones waited on the steps of the City-County Building for her son to complete release paperwork and join her for the ride home.
According to trial testimony, Peacock and fellow pipeline workers Jarrett Chandler and Tyler Witty got into an argument with Figaniak and fellow Jesuit student Tyler Johnson that escalated into a physical altercation on Locust Avenue following a night of heavy drinking.
The pipeliners were leaving The Owl's Nest on Edgington Lane when they encountered Figaniak and Johnson, who had just left Ye Old Alpha. Their initial interactions were friendly, as Johnson joined in a song being sung by Witty. But the fun ended when Johnson made what Peacock took as an insulting remark suggesting a person does not have to go to school to work as a pipeliner.
The verbal confrontation escalated as they walked along Edgington Lane and crossed National Road to an area of Locust Street where Figaniak reportedly pushed Chandler, leading Chandler to punch Figaniak in the jaw, knocking him to the ground and causing the back of his head to strike the sidewalk.
A Locust Avenue resident who woke to Johnson knocking on his door testified that he saw Johnson drop Figaniak twice as he was trying to carry him back to campus. The neighbor said the second time Johnson dropped Figaniak, his head dropped nine inches to one foot and struck the pavement.
Prosecutors claimed a kick to the head from Peacock caused Figaniak's death, but the defense argued that Peacock's boot merely brushed Figaniak's head as Peacock was on the ground fighting with Johnson.
In closing arguments, all three attorneys presented passionate final words to the jury. Kahle went first for the state, followed by McCoid and then final rebuttal by Turak.
Each keyed in on the expert testimony of West Virginia Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jimmy Smith, who testified for the prosecution, and Assistant Kentucky State Medical Examiner Gregory Davis, who was summoned by the defense.
Both agreed that Figaniak died of multiple blunt force trauma injuries to the head but they offered different views on which of the blows caused his death.
Chandler served seven months of a one-year sentence after pleading guilty last year to involuntary manslaughter for his part in Figaniak's death.