Arrests made in murder of W.Va. teen discovered in Greene County

May 1, 2013
Murder victim Skylar Neese

Two West Virginia teens have been charged in the death of Skylar Neese, 16, of Star City, W.Va., whose remains were found Jan. 16 near Jay Phillips Road in Wayne Township, Greene County.

On Wednesday, Rachel Shoaf, 16, of Morgantown, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder at a hearing in Monongalia County Circuit Court. Shoaf has waived her right to a trial, according to a plea agreement filed with Circuit Court of Monongalia County, W.Va.

According to court documents, Shoaf willfully, maliciously and intentionally caused the death of Skylar Neese by stabbing her. She is in custody while awaiting court approval of the plea agreement.

Monongalia County Prosecuting Attorney Marcia Ashdown has recommended a sentence of 20 years of incarceration. Ashdown said the state will oppose any request made on Shoaf’s behalf to sentence her as a juvenile.

As part of the plea agreement, Shoaf agreed not to challenge the validity of her conviction by direct appeal in federal or state court, or in any legal proceeding, including but not limited to filing a state or federal habeas corpus petition.

According to U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld II and the Monongalia County prosecutor’s office, charges in the case are pending against another juvenile, who is in custody in Monongalia County. No further information was released regarding the second suspect.

Neese was reported missing from James Place Apartments on Crawford Avenue last July by her parents, Dave and Mary Earl Neese. In a statement released several months ago by Mary Neese, she expressed her frustration over her daughter’s disappearance. She said Skylar was being treated as a runaway two months after she was last seen on surveillance video at her apartment complex getting into a vehicle.

According to Mary Neese, on the evening of Skylar’s disappearance, her best friend twice denied knowing anything about her whereabouts but called later that night to say she and another girl were out driving with Skylar. Mary Neese said the girl told her they dropped Skylar off about two blocks from the apartment complex at her request. She allegedly told Mary Neese this was to prevent the Neeses from hearing Skylar return, as she had left without permission.

The Neeses conducted a door-to-door search and contacted Star City police, who considered Skylar a runaway. Two months later, West Virginia State Police and the FBI became involved in the case, according to Mary Neese. That was two months too long, Mary Neese said. The Neeses began a campaign to enact a law in West Virginia ensuring that other parents would not have to prove their child did not run away before an Amber Alert is issued.

House Bill 2453, “Skylar’s Law,” was enacted Monday with the signature of West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. “Skylar’s Law” requires a reporting law enforcement agency to provide information about a suspected missing or abducted child to West Virginia State Police in the initial stages of an investigation. It also requires that the Amber Alert Coordinator be contacted for a determination as to whether an Amber Alert will help to facilitate the safe return of the child.

Neese was initially considered to be a runaway and therefore did not fit the criteria for an Amber Alert as a missing or abducted child. The four criteria for an Amber Alert are: a child is believed to have been abducted; is under 18; may be in danger of death or serious injury; and there is sufficient information to indicate an Amber Alert would be helpful in locating the child.

The Shoaf family issued a statement through attorneys: “Our thoughts and prayers have been with you since we learned of Skylar’s disappearance. We are at a loss for words to comfort your pain.”

The Shoafs said their daughter’s actions are both unforgivable and inexcusable.

“Our hearts are broken for your loss and we are still trying to come to terms with this event. We pray that we all will find peace in our hearts and the strength to move forward,” the statement reads.

Mary Neese said she does not blame the parents of the girls involved in any way. She said she is praying for them.

The cases now pending against Shoaf and the other teen will be handled by Ashdown and Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Perri Jo DeChristopher. Shoaf is being represented by attorneys John Agnotti and David Straface of Morgantown.

Tara Kinsell started her career in journalism with the National Geographic Insider Magazine and the Gaithersburg Gazette Newspaper in Montgomery County, Md. Tara has written and photographed sports, features and news stories for the Herald Standard, Greene County Messenger and Albert Gallatin Weekly. She holds degrees in journalism and graphic design from Waynesburg College, now Waynesburg University, and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, respectively.

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