MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A West Virginia judge refused Tuesday to set bail for a 17-year-old girl charged with the premeditated murder of her former best friend, ordering her to remain in a juvenile detention facility until trial next year.
Monongalia County Circuit Judge Russell Clawges postponed Shelia Eddy’s trial on first-degree murder, kidnapping and conspiracy charges to the week of Feb. 11. He also delayed hearings on other pre-trial motions so defense attorney Michael Benninger can collect more evidence to argue them.
Benninger is seeking a change of venue and said he has “thousands of pages” of evidence to submit to help demonstrate that Eddy can’t get a fair trial in Morgantown. He contends that publicity surrounding the 2012 stabbing death of 16-year-old Skylar Neese has tainted the pool of potential jurors.
Benninger also wants the judge to suppress the confession of Eddy’s alleged co-conspirator, Rachel Shoaf. He told the judge he also expects to file more motions on his client’s behalf once he’s had time to fully review an FBI report.
Shoaf has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and is awaiting sentencing. She, too, is being held in a juvenile detention facility.
Benninger said Eddy should be released on home confinement and 24-hour monitoring until her trial, arguing that she is no threat to the community, the victim’s family or Shoaf. He added that Eddy has been in constant contact with his office since January, when Shoaf told investigators about the plot and where to find Neese’s body.
But prosecutor Marcia Ashdown objected, saying Eddy is charged “with the most serious offenses a defendant can be charged with in this jurisdiction.”
Ashdown also noted that it’s possible Eddy will face charges in another jurisdiction. Investigators say the murder was committed in a rural part of Wayne Township, Pa., just across the state line from the unincorporated West Virginia community of Macdale.
After the hearing, the victim’s father praised the decision to deny bail. Dave Neese also said he wants the trial over with as soon as possible, but he didn’t object to the postponement because he wants prosecutors to be fully prepared. He said he does, however, want the trial to remain in Monongalia County so he and his wife, Mary, don’t have to make a daily commute or live in hotel rooms.
He said Clawges should try to seat an impartial jury before deciding whether to find one in another county. “I’m from here. I live here,” Dave Neese said. “I don’t want it to go anywhere else.”
Prosecutors say Eddy and Shoaf lured the victim, an honors student at University High School, out of her Star City apartment last summer, stabbed her for reasons that have never been clear and hid her body under some branches when they were unable to bury her.
Skylar Neese had been missing for months when the break in the case came Jan. 3. Prosecutors say that’s when Shoaf finally cracked and told investigators the truth – and where to find the body.
Shoaf has not offered a motive except to say that she and Eddy no longer wanted to be friends with the other girl.