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Friday, April 11th, 2008

Bond doubles after plea on new charges

By Margie Wuebker
Nicholas Schwieterman, the 22-year-old Chickasaw man charged in connection with the deaths of four area teens, sat quietly in Mercer County Common Pleas Court on Thursday afternoon as his attorneys entered a not guilty plea to 16 charges filed earlier this week. Judge Jeffrey Ingraham also doubled the man's bond to $2 million.
Schwieterman stared straight ahead not looking at his parents, sister and grandmother seated directly behind him or toward the other side of the courtroom where parents and relatives of the four teens killed held framed photographs of the deceased. Schwieterman spoke just three words during the proceeding, responding "Yes, your honor," when the judge asked whether it was his intention to plead not guilty.
A grand jury on Monday returned a 16-count indictment including four counts of involuntary manslaughter, first-degree felonies alleging he caused the traffic deaths of Jordan Moeller, Jordan Diller, Bradley Roeckner and Jordan Goettemoeller, as a proximate result of possessing drugs.
Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Matt Fox explained the latest indictment came about as a result of new information. Urinalysis tests received after the initial indictment indicated Schwieterman's cocaine level tested at 7,990 nanograms, more than 53 times the 150-nanogram level at which a person is considered impaired.
The indictment also includes a single count of possessing drugs and another count of trafficking in drugs. The first charge alleges he obtained, possessed or used cocaine, and a second charging he allegedly sold or offered to sell the same drug on or about March 14-15. The crash occurred at 2:51 a.m. March 15 at the intersection of County Road 716A and Brockman Road, north of St. Sebastian.
Included in the new indictment are four counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, second-degree felonies alleging he caused the four deaths by driving under the influence. Results of tests performed following the crash indicated his blood-alcohol content was 0.134, nearly double the 0.08 legal limit. Four additional counts of aggravated vehicular homicide - all third-degree felonies - allege he operated a 1996 Pontiac Bonneville in reckless fashion by running a stop sign.
The last two counts, both misdemeanors, allege he operated the vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, a drug of abuse or a combination of the two.
Fox asked the court to dismiss the 10 counts in the original indictment because the state wishes to proceed with the new and more serious charges.
The assistant prosecutor requested no bail or at the least $4 million in the new case, citing the deaths of four young men and the risk Schwieterman poses to others as well as himself.
Alluding to alleged "suicidal ideations," Fox admitted the state has serious concerns about the risk Schwieterman poses to himself and wants to make sure he is available for trial.
State statutes previously allowed no bail in capital cases; however, new legislation permits its use in serious cases where proof is evident and presumption is great. Fox indicated the state is "ready, willing and able" to proceed with a speedy trial.
Defense council Scott Calaway responded to the new bond request saying Schwieterman needs to be home with his family and not "rotting away" in jail until the trial tentatively set for the week of June 9.
The attorney called the latest bond request unreasonable and suggested reduction to $500,000 or lower.
Noting the Schwieterman family has ties in the community dating back 150 years and his family owns a business (the Korner Kafe in Maria Stein), the attorney pointed out his client is not a flight risk and has received hundreds of letters - all of them positive - in the wake of the tragedy.
Calaway reminded everyone the charges at this point involve allegations - "allegations that certainly are not pretty." He admitted emotions are running high but warned the matter must be decided by a jury and not tried before cameras, referring to two television crews and a newspaper reporter in the crowded courtroom.
"Nick Schwieterman is a good man and if these assumptions are true he had a very, very bad day," the attorney added.
Soft crying could be heard from both sides of the gallery in response to the statement.
Fox asked for additional conditions in the event the defendant's family posts 10 percent or $200,000 of the new $2 million bond. They include no contact - either direct or indirect - with the victims' families or prospective witnesses in the case. Release would come only after electronic monitoring is in place and Schwieterman could only leave his parents' home for consultations with his Dayton attorneys, court appearances or medical emergencies with prior approval of the court bailiff and chief probation officer Mike Huber. The long list of stipulations also forbids no alcohol and/or drugs as well as random testing at the defendant's cost.
The next scheduled court proceeding is a May 6 evidentiary hearing to consider motions Caloway and co-counsel Marc Ross are expected to file in the coming days. Mercer County Prosecutor Andy Hinders told The Daily Standard these motions would likely deal with the suppression of evidence.
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