MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) – Attorneys for a 17-year-old West Virginia girl charged with the premeditated stabbing death of her former best friend say she can’t get a fair trial in Monongalia County, so they want it delayed and relocated.
Attorney Michael Benninger filed several motions in Shelia Eddy’s looming first-degree murder trial this week, including one that asks a judge to deny the use of a confession from her alleged accomplice, Rachel Shoaf.
Prosecutors say Eddy and Shoaf lured 16-year-old University High School honors student Skylar Neese out of her Star City home last summer, stabbed her for reasons that have never been clear and hid her body under some branches across the state border in Greene County.
Shoaf, who has said only that she and Eddy no longer wanted to be friends with Neese, confessed to the plot and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in May. But Benninger says she was under extreme mental distress when she named Eddy as her co-conspirator, and prosecutors should not be able to use her statements.
The court filings demand copies of all statements and evidence that Shoaf gave police, as well as her mental health records.
Benninger says Shoaf was sent to a mental health facility before she confessed, and that suggests her testimony is unreliable. That also violates Eddy’s constitutional right to due process, he argues.
Neese had been missing for months when the break in the case came Jan. 3. Prosecutors say that’s when Shoaf finally told investigators the truth – and where to find the body.
Neese’s remains were found hidden under branches in a secluded spot in Wayne Township, Pa., near the unincorporated West Virginia community of Macdale. Shoaf told police the girls had been unable to bury her.
Media outlets say Eddy’s defense team also wants the trial delayed so it has more time to prepare and to conduct psychiatric evaluations. It is currently set for the week of Oct. 22.
Besides murder, Eddy is charged with kidnapping and two counts of conspiracy. Shoaf awaits sentencing.
Both are being held in juvenile detention facilities, but their cases are proceeding in adult court.
Benninger also argues Shoaf’s confession should be suppressed because investigators questioned her without her attorney’s knowledge or consent.
Prosecutors have said they plan to recommend a 20-year prison sentence for Shoaf and will oppose any move to have her sentenced as a juvenile. But she could get as many as 40 years under the law.
Shoaf’s family issued a public apology but has made no further statements.
Eddy’s family has never commented on the case.