LOGAN — Hocking County Juvenile Court Judge Jonah Saving ruled on Tuesday that the two teens charged in the death of a Chillicothe woman in September would be tried as adults.
Judge Saving made the ruling during the preliminary hearings this week for Jaden Churchheus and Jordan Buckley, both 16 years old.
The two teens are charged with murder, felonious assault and involuntary manslaughter in the death of 44-year-old Victoria Schafer, a photographer from Chillicothe.
Schafer was killed when the teens allegedly pushed a 74-pound log over a cliff at Old Man’s Cave on Labor Day, Sept. 2. The photographer was at the park with several teenage girls for a senior photo shoot when the incident occurred.
Hocking County Prosecutor Benjamin E. Fickel told our sister newspaper, The Logan Daily News, that his office requested a mandatory bind-over to Hocking County Common Pleas Court, where it is his intention to try Churchheus and Buckley as adults.
Following the hearings, the Prosecutor said the cases are expected to be presented to the Hocking County Grand Jury today for indictment; however, the results will not be released until Wednesday.
During the preliminary hearings, Fickel said he believes this incident was not an accident.
“There was a lot more to it than that, and that’s why we are prosecuting the case,” he stated. “After hearings on both cases, the Court determined there was probable cause to proceed with the murder charges. As a result, both cases were bound over to Common Pleas Court where they will be tried as adults. We don’t think this was an accident at all.”
Churchheus appeared in court with his defense attorney Ryan Shepler; while defense attorney Bob Toy appeared with Buckley.
Among the witnesses for the State was Hocking County Sheriff Lt. Dustin Robinson, who testified that the log could not have simply rolled off the cliff due to the proximity of where it was located prior to the incident.
Robinson also noted that during questioning of Churchheus, the teen allegedly admitted that if something was thrown from the cliff that someone could have passed, meaning that someone could have died.
Throughout both hearings, it was a lot of he-said, he-said accusations as the teens seemingly turned against each other in blaming one another for the actual incident. Churchheus claimed that he only touched the log, and it was Buckley that kicked it causing it to roll off the cliff.
According to Churchheus’ defense attorney Shepler, the prosecution cannot prove murder unless they can prove his client pushed the log over the edge knowing that there was the possibility that it could have killed someone. Shepler doesn’t believe the prosecutor can prove that theory.
Prosecutor Fickel said there were two other teens with Churchheus and Buckley on Labor Day when the incident occurred. Miranda Spencer, 19, was granted immunity by the prosecution for her testimony; the other teen declined to testify and invoked her Fifth Amendment right.
During Churchheus’ hearing, Spencer testified that she was uncertain who pushed the log over the cliff; however, recanted her statement during Buckley’s hearing remarking that Churchheus is the one that pushed the log over the cliff.
Toy said his client points the finger at Churchheus also as being the one who pushed the log off the cliff. However, at this point, it’s uncertain if one or both teens played a role in the incident.
Testimony that came out during the hearing alleges that Churchheus told Buckley, “I caught a body at the age of 16.”
Also testifying for the State was ODNR Investigator Troy Newman, who said when he arrived on scene, he knew right away that the incident was not an accident because the log did now fall straight down.
Shepler questioned Newman, asking if the log could have ricocheted or bounced from the ledge. Newman said it could have possibly been the case. The investigator also testified that in a text message to his girlfriend, Buckley told her that he was trying to be “cool” and allegedly said that he and Churchheus threw the log over the cliff.
According to HCSO Lt. Robinson, in a videotaped interview Buckley demonstrated how he moved the log; and that he and Churchheus allegedly had taken a “selfie” after the incident occurred.
The Hocking County Prosecutor is certain that both teens participated in the incident, and is seeking justice for the Schafer family.
The teens were imposed a $100,000 cash or surety bond, and ordered to return to the Multi-County Juvenile Detention Center. If bond is posted, they will wear ankle monitors.
The Circleville Herald and The Logan Daily News will keep its readers informed of potential court dates and other information pertinent to the incident.