Teens tried as adults after 6-foot log pushed off a cliff, killing woman at Ohio state park
LOGAN, Ohio – Both of the juveniles charged in the death of an Ohio woman have been bound over to adult court to stand trial after hearings Tuesday.
Victoria Schafer, 44, was killed near Old Man's Cave in Hocking Hills State Park on Labor Day.
Bond for both defendants was set at $100,000. Both 16-year-olds will continue to be held in juvenile detention unless they are able to post bond, and if either does they will be required to wear an ankle monitor.
Jaden Churchheues and Jordan Buckley face charges of murder, an unclassified felony; involuntary manslaughter, a first-degree felony; and felonious assault, a second-degree felony, according to prosecutors.
Charging both murder and manslaughter – a lesser offense under the homicide umbrella – in the same case is not uncommon as it provides options to a jury when considering a verdict. A person, if convicted, may be convicted of one or the other of the two charges in a single death.
Ohio Department of Natural Resources investigator Troy Newman and Lt. Detective Dustin Robison, of the Hocking County Sheriff’s Office, both testified that the log that killed Schafer was removed from a pile more than 40 feet from the cliff ledge, which was shown by an indentation in the earth. The log weighed 74 pounds after 10 days of drying out.
During Churchheus' hearing, a video was shown of his interview with investigators in which Churchheus repeatedly stated that he “flipped the log” over a downed tree and that Buckley pushed it.
Newman testified that the cliff has a short drop off to another vertical ledge and another straight drop at the edge of the second ledge. Newman said the trajectory of the log was not a simple straight drop and would have required forward momentum.
A friend of Churchheus and Buckley, Miranda Spencer, testified that she was with teenagers at the park the day Schafer died.
Spencer initially testified that she did not remember who pushed the log off of the cliff during Churchheus' hearing in the morning.
However during Buckley's hearing in the afternoon, Spencer testified that Churchheus was the one to physically throw the log over the cliff. Spencer said she'd reviewed transcripts of one of her four interviews with law enforcement. Buckley's attorney Bob Toy provided Spencer with the documents in the hallway outside the courtroom.
Spencer testified that the defendants "did it to be funny" and said that Buckley told Churchheus there was no one below after she'd told them not to throw the log.
"I know Jaden. I don't believe that he would ever intentionally hurt someone," said Spencer.
Churchheus' attorney Ryan J. Shepler said after his client's hearing that while he expected today’s ruling, he was confident the state would not be able to satisfy the standards for a conviction, arguing that knowing the park was busy is not the same as “knowingly” killing the victim.
“I have a hard time imagining what it must be like going through this as a 16-year-old,” said Shepler. "Mr. Churchheus was in high school when this happened, and now he is facing the possibility of decades in prison."
Robison testified that the sheriff’s office chose not to administer a polygraph test to Buckley despite the defendant’s repeated requests.
Newman testified that while he told Buckley a computer simulation of the crime had been completed before interview on Oct. 10, no such simulation had been completed although Ohio Highway Patrol is in the process of completing one.
“I was using an interrogation tactic,” said Robinson. Toy replied that it was a lie.
In an interview after the hearing, Toy said the burden of probable cause is “extremely low.”
“I disagree with the court’s decision,” said Toy. “He’s a good judge I just disagree. There may be an appellate issue if anything bad happens but quite frankly, I think in any jury trial in an adult system, my client is going to be acquitted. No ifs, ands or buts."
Hocking County Prosecutor Benjamin Fickel and Assistant Prosecutor Jordan Meadows said that while they learned a few new things, the hearings went largely as expected. Fickel also stated there were allegations of intoxication on the part of participants in the incident.
A tentative arraignment hearing in the adult court is scheduled for Nov. 12, said Fickel.
Schafer was the owner of Victoria Schafer Photography and well known in the Ross County community for her contributions to various causes.
Follow Justin Reutter on Twitter: @jayreutter1