Shelia Eddy: How Will She Plead?
A walk near dusk in my nearly deserted neighborhood reinforced why I choose to live here: a mailbox with the hand-painted words “Mountaineer fans live here”; a set of clay hands, cast in a gesture of prayer; a lawn mover left unattended on a well-manicured lawn; a few friendly people walking their dogs who weren’t too busy to stop and greet each other; and children together outside, playing safely.
These are the things I thought about, as I pondered tomorrow’s arraignments in Monongalia County Circuit Court. It’s now known that major media folks are in town to cover the story of the decade: Shelia Eddy, who turns 18 on Sept. 28, will make an appearance, and possibly a plea, tomorrow. She’s the Morgantown teen who has been charged, along with Rachel Shoaf, for killing her best friend, Skylar Neese, in July 2012. Shoaf has already pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. It’s not known how Eddy will plead, but last week a Monongalia County grand jury indicted her on first-degree murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy charges.
Eddy’s appearance explains why Inside Edition was here last week, and why Dateline and 20/20 will hold court tomorrow with the local media. So far, the big guns have done a good job of not depicting us as yokels with missing teeth and minimal education. Which is really nice, considering that there are people here like that.
Just as there are everywhere. Especially in rural areas where poverty is rampant. That’s as apt to be true in northern California as it is here, in Morgantown, West Virginia. But there are also a great percentage of college-educated people here, in addition to people with wealth and status and power and prestige. People who run universities and pharmaceutical companies; award-winning authors like Sarah Pritchard and thoughtful movie producers, like Robert Tinnell.
That’s where Geoff Fuller and I come into the picture: we’re determined to write an accurate, factual account of Skylar’s life and death. Hopefully our book will be so well written and exhaustive it will become the definitive book when it comes to people wanting to learn how and why Skylar was killed. How one girl could admit to stabbing her former best friend, while another one has apparently maintained her innocence throughout the last fourteen months.
The reason tomorrow’s hearing is drawing such attention is because it’s safe to say that popular, pretty teen girls in our little corner of the world don’t kill each other. (And let’s not forget, honors students, at that.) At least, we’d sure like to believe they don’t.
Maybe, for all we know, they didn’t. Maybe only one of them did, and she doesn’t want to take the fall alone. Stranger things have happened. And even though we’ve gleaned a great deal from conducting interviews, Geoff and I certainly don’t pretend to know all the facts. Yet. But we will, one day very soon. After the police and prosecution show their hand, and Eddy has had a chance to have her day in court.
Perhaps that day will be tomorrow. For months now, the community has waited for her legal status to be changed from juvenile to adult. Now, that’s behind her and all that awaits us is a plea. So tomorrow’s million-dollar question is will she plead not guilty? Or guilty?
Even though it may anger some of you, because we live in the United States of America, the justice system guarantees Eddy a legal standard held out by the Fifth Amendment: Eddy is innocent until proven guilty. So it doesn’t really matter what you or I say, does it?
That’s something that many people today have forgotten. It’s easy to do, when everyday citizens hear rumors about evidence long before, say, a grand jury learns about actual evidence. (A grand jury being different than a jury of 12 men and women, who deliberate over a person’s innocence or guilt.)
Last week, a grand jury indicted Eddy. Tomorrow the wheels of justice will continue to move forward, providing Eddy with an arraignment hearing. We’ll watch and see what she pleads, or if she pleads, at the same time.
That may be our biggest clue to whether this case is coming to a close—or just beginning.
Editor’s note: Berry and award-winning editor Geoff Fuller (author of Full Bone Moon), have recently teamed up to write the authorized version of the Skylar Neese murder. Berry’s TEDx talk, given April 13 at Connecticut College, is now live. Berry’s memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read an excerpt, please go to the Sister of Silence site.