Testimony concludes in WJU student murder trial

WHEELING – Expert witnesses offered different views on who or what killed Kevin Figaniak as testimony concluded Thursday in the trial of Craig Tyler Peacock, who is accused of murdering the 21-year-old Wheeling Jesuit University student last year.

West Virginia Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jimmy Smith and Assistant Kentucky State Medical Examiner Gregory Davis agreed Figaniak died of blunt force trauma to the head, but offered opposing opinions on the origin of that fatal blow. Both took the stand on the final day of testimony in Peacock’s trial.

Circuit Judge James Mazzone said closing arguments will begin at 10 a.m. Friday before the case is turned over to the jury.

Peacock, 22, of Clewiston, Fla., is charged with murder in the Sept. 1 death of Figaniak, 21, of Perkasie, Pa., who allegedly died of head injuries inflicted when he was kicked by Peacock during an altercation on the way back to the WJU campus from a local bar.

Smith, who performed Figaniak’s autopsy in Morgantown, testified the cause of death was homicide. He said several factors contributed to Figaniak’s death, including a punch from Jarrett Chandler – who pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter earlier this year and served 7 months in prison – Peacock’s kick and being dropped by his friend as he attempted to carry Figaniak back to campus.

Under cross examination, Smith would not concede to defense attorney Robert McCoid’s suggestion that Figaniak’s other injuries were sufficient to cause his death, without Peacock’s kick.

Davis, meanwhile, said he agreed with Smith’s conclusion about the cause and manner of death but disagreed with Smith’s interpretation of the findings. He said the extensive brain damage was consistent with falling backward and striking his head against a solid object – but the damage was not consistent with a kick from a boot.

Peacock also took the stand Thursday in his own behalf. He said he initially lied to police about what happened out of fear. Assistant Prosecutor Gail Kahle repeatedly referred to Peacock’s police interview, during which he lied about his employment and whereabouts on the night of the fight.

Trial testimony throughout the week told the story of pipeline workers Peacock, Chandler and Tyler Witty – who has not been charged with a crime – getting into an argument with Figaniak and another WJU student, Tyler Johnson, following a night of heavy drinking at several bars.

The confrontation eventually became physical, witnesses said.

The pipeliners were leaving The Owl’s Nest on Edgington Lane when they encountered Figaniak and Johnson, who had just left Ye Old Alpha on Carmel Road. According to testimony, Peacock took offense to a comment from Johnson suggesting a person does not have to go to school to work as a pipeliner.

The verbal confrontation escalated as the men walked along Edgington Lane and crossed National Road to Locust Street, where witnesses said Figaniak pushed Chandler, who responded by punching Figaniak in the jaw, knocking him to the ground and causing the back of his head to strike the sidewalk.

A Locust Avenue resident testified that he saw Johnson drop Figaniak twice as he attempted to carry him back to campus. He said the second time, Figaniak’s head dropped nine inches to a foot and struck the pavement.

The defense claims that as Peacock was on the ground fighting with Johnson, Witty pulled him off and twirled him around, and his momentum caused his boot to brush Figaniak’s head.