November 24, 1998

Drug Investigation Nets More Than 40 Suspects

After five months of investigation and undercover drug operations conducted by the Medway Drug Enforcement Agency, a special session of the Wayne County Grand Jury met on Thursday, November 12, 1998, to consider the evidence. After several hours of testimony presented by Assistant Prosecutor Jocelyn Stefancin, the grand jury issued indictments charging 41 people with a total of 91 drug offenses. The drug offenses charged in those indictments include sales of marihuana, powder cocaine, crack cocaine and LSD.

As a result of the grand jury's findings, 43 arrest warrants were issued, including one warrant issued by the Wayne County Municipal Court and another one issued by the Wayne County Juvenile Court. Municipal Court Judge Stuart K. Miller also authorized eight search warrants related to the drug investigation.

On Friday afternoon, November 13, 1998, 117 police officers and five drug detection dogs gathered at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center for a special briefing. This unified task force included police officers from nearly all of Wayne County's law enforcement agencies, as well as troopers from the Ohio State Highway Patrol and deputies from the Holmes County Sheriff's Office and the Marion County Sheriff's Office.

The enforcement brigade was divided into several teams, and those teams were assigned the task of serving the numerous arrest and search warrants. Two helicopters, supplied by the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Marion County Sheriff's Department, were also enlisted to provide support for the drug raids.

More than sixty percent of the suspects indicted by the grand jury were arrested during Friday's raids. Search warrants were executed at locations in Orrville, Shreve and Wooster, including a search warrant for the Depot Bar at 547 East Liberty Street in Wooster. As a result of drugs and money found during the execution of those search warrants, several more suspects have now been charged with felony drug offenses.

Based on evidence obtained during Medway's investigation, an additional search warrant, authorized by Judge Jane Irving of the Holmes County Court, was executed at Backwoods Video in Big Prairie, Ohio. Two additional arrests were made in Holmes County.

Two Suspects Face Death Penalty For 1998 Murders

Nearly a dozen years have passed since the last time that Wayne County experienced a capital murder prosecution. Now, within the span of a single month, the Wayne County Grand Jury has issued death penalty indictments in two separate cases, and the extensive legal process involved in such cases has already begun.

On July 23, 1998, Gene Palmer was robbed and brutally bludgeoned at his Congress Township home. In early October, Palmer died as a result of injuries sustained during that beating. Gregory Crawford, age 36, now faces the death penalty for committing that crime.

On October 7, 1998, Randal Leichty was the victim of a robbery at his home in Sugar Creek Township. Leichty was held captive by multiple offenders during the course of that robbery and was killed by a single shotgun blast at close range. Facing the death penalty is Joshua Hukill, age 19. Five of Hukill's accomplices have been charged with aggravated murder, and all face sentences of life imprisonment.

These cases will have a decided impact on the criminal justice system in Wayne County. The case of Joshua Hukill has been assigned to Judge Robert J. Brown, and trial is expected to begin on February 8, 1999. Judge Brown has also been assigned the cases of three of Hukill's accomplices, whose trial are due to commence in January, 1999.

Judge Mark K. Wiest has been assigned the case of Gregory Crawford. The Crawford trial is scheduled to begin on March 1, 1999, and is expected to continue for the remainder of that month. Judge Wiest was also assigned the cases of two of the accomplices in the Leichty murder, whose trials are currently scheduled for late January and early February of next year.

Assistant Prosecutor John Williams is slated to prosecute the cases assigned to Judge Wiest, while Assistant Prosecutor Jocelyn Stefancin is schedule to prosecute those assigned to Judge Brown. Prosecuting Attorney Martin Frantz expects to participate as trial counsel in both death penalty cases.

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