Civil suit impinges on probe, Columbiana prosecutor says
The civil action opens up the opportunity for evidence to be gathered.
By D.A. WILKINSON
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
LISBON -- Columbiana County Prosecutor Robert Herron is crying foul over a rare civil case that could shed light on -- or disrupt -- a murder investigation.
Salem Atty. Robert Guehl has filed a petition in common pleas court to take depositions from various people to gather potential evidence in the death of Craig Roberts.
Roberts was found shot to death in his Wellsville home in 2002. He owned Boot Hill Towing.
Brother is executor
Guehl represents Steven Roberts, who is the executor of his late brother's estate. The filing would allow Guehl to question people to gain and preserve information that could be used in a wrongful-death lawsuit.
Herron said in a statement Wednesday, "The state of Ohio has an obligation in our criminal justice system to preserve the integrity of every criminal investigation, including this one.
"This matter remains an open and active criminal investigation by the Wellsville police department, and we have serious concerns about any reckless or foolhardy effort that may irreparably damage the ability of the state of Ohio to successfully prosecute the person or persons involved in the death of Craig Roberts."
Herron said his office was continually discussing the case with Wellsville Police Chief Joe Scarabino. He and Scarabino met about a year ago with a private detective hired by the Roberts family.
"That investigation apparently resulted in very little, if anything, of value. Certainly nothing was presented to this office as a result of the private investigation," Herron said in a press release issued Wednesday.
The petition to seek depositions in a civil case that could affect a criminal case is such a rare legal move, Guehl said, "I don't know of this ever being done in the 25 years I've been here."
Guehl said he only needs approval from a judge to begin taking depositions.
Authorities said that Roberts' girlfriend and some of her relatives were in the house at the time of the shooting. They were never identified.
Prosecutors also said they had discovered a motive but never announced it. They also ruled the death wasn't the result of an accident or robbery.
The petition seeks information from Chrystal Tice, who may be in Wellsville or West Virginia; Larry Wells of New Philadelphia; and Dana Chaffins, whose last known address was in Lisbon. Their relationship to Roberts wasn't stated in the petition.
Several people involved in the case -- who were not identified -- testified before a grand jury shortly after the murder. No indictments were issued.
Herron said in his statement: "While we have very serious concerns about the real motives behind the filing of this lawsuit, we continue to be clearly open to any additional credible evidence which may be obtained from any source.
"If it is the intention to solve this murder offense, then we certainly share in this goal."