Trial for Murder of Skylar Neese Raises Range of Legal Issues

The story is almost too unbelievable and tragic to be true. Last summer, Skylar Neese snuck out the window of her West Virginia home and got in a car. Six months later, Rachael Shoaf, one of Neese’s best friends, admitted to killing the missing the 16-year-old with the help of their mutual friend, Shelia Eddy. Murder charges can next, but with a twist.

Shoaf and Eddy drove Neese from West Virginia to Wayne, Pennsylvania, where they lured her into the woods and stabbed her to death at a pre-arranged time. They then tried to bury her body, court records indicate, but couldn’t. So they covered her with branches instead.

After confession, Shoaf showed authorities where they’d buried the body. Sources say the two girls posted flyers and helped with search party efforts to find Neese when she was still considered a missing person.

Tried as adults

In May, Shoad pled guilty to second-degree murder. The 16-year-old faces 20 years in prison, and she could serve up to 40 years under the law. Prosecutors say they will block any effort to have her sentenced as a juvenile despite the efforts of her Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyers.

Earlier this month, authorities announced Eddy was charged with one count of kidnapping, one count of first-degree murder, and one count of conspiracy to commit murder.

Although Eddy is only 17, she will be tried as an adult.

As an adult in the eyes of the court, Eddy will likely plead her case before a jury, which probably would not have been the case in juvenile court. Some legal experts say juries are more likely to be sympathetic to minors being tried as adults. However, Eddy will not have the wide range of sentencing options available to juvenile offenders.

Where will the trial be held?

In addition to the issue of trying these two as adults, the legal issue of jurisdiction has played a key role in this case.

When Shoaf pled guilty in May, both sides agreed to try the case in West Virginia.

Was that the right decision?

Authorities debated whether the case should be tried in Pennsylvania, where the murder took place, or West Virginia, where the girls are from. In cases where kidnapping is involved, the trial is often held where the crime began — where the victim was kidnapped.

This case isn’t so simple. It all comes down to an obscure legal term — inveigle, according to the Observer-Reporter.

Inveigle: persuade (someone) to do something by means of deception or flattery.

Serious consequences

Officials say Neese willing went with the two girls in Pennsylvania, but she did so under false pretenses. Legal precedent states that when inveigling is involved, the trial should be held in the state where the crime begins.

In trying Eddy as an adult and holding the case in West Virginia, authorities have limited her options in court. First-degree murder carries an automatic sentence of life imprisonment in West Virginia.

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