After hearing nine testimonies and being presented all of the information regarding the cause of Lane Wolfe’s death, a jury of six people returned after about 17 minutes of deliberations to determine the manner of death was accidental, as some of the audience members clapped and cheered when jury foreman David McManus read the verdict.
Massac County Coroner Mark Fitch, who presided over the coroner’s inquest held at Massac County Courthouse’s large courtroom, addressed the prospective jurors on Oct. 1, telling them and the crowd the jury would be given the cause of death, which had already been established.
The task, as Fitch emphasized, was for the jury to establish the manner of death, whether it was: homicide, suicide, accidental or undetermined. The prospective jurors, Fitch explained came from the jury pool list is provided from Massac County Circuit Clerk’s office.
Massac County Circuit Clerk Larry Grace said there were jurors already summonsed for other cases and 25 people from that January 22 panel were randomly selected.
After the jurors and two alternates had been chosen, Fitch began by establishing the known facts about Benjerman Lane Wolfe and the night of Oct. 13, 2012. Wolfe was 15 at the time and was at his best friend, Ryan English’s house at 3110 Mick English Road. According to Fitch, it was on Oct. 14, when a 911 call was received at Massac County Sheriff’s Office from English stating there had been a shooting at his house.
The shooting occurred Oct. 14, 2012, and the question on many peoples’ minds was why did the coroner’s inquest take so long to happen. Fitch said the Illinois State Police (ISP) took over the shooting investigation one month after the shooting occurred.
According to Fitch, ISP did not officially close the case until September of this year. Until the case was completely closed, nothing could be done and pointed out this was the soonest a coroner’s inquest could be held. Fitch said a coroner’s inquest is held only when the manner of the death is not clear.
The last coroner’s inquest in Massac County was held in 2011, regarding the death of Monty Kingsley.
The jury then heard several phone calls to and from Massac County Sheriff’s Office dispatch, in the order they were received and placed.
The first person taking the stand was 15-year police officer Cody Brown of the Metropolis Police Department, who had received a call at 3:35 a.m. on his cell phone from Beth Korte, the mother of Dalton Korte, who had told his mother he was at a friends and someone shot himself. At 3:54 a.m., another phone call came from Korte, who said her husband, Chuck had confirmed someone had been shot. Brown said he advised her to call 911 immediately.
It was at 4:09 a.m. when Brown said he arrived at the English residence and already on the scene was Massac County Sheriff’s Deputy Clayton Penrod. He said he recalled a silver passenger car on the scene and in the car was Chuck Korte and Dempsey Devers. Brown said he was briefed by Penrod and could see a deceased body laying at the threshold of an attached garage, with a gun laying about two feet away. Brown said he did not collect any evidence from the scene.
Clayton Penrod, officer for five years with Massac County Sheriff’s Department, testified that he received a call from Massac County Dispatcher Andrew Worthen asking him if he knew of a gunshot victim. He went on to say that at approximately 4 a.m. he arrived at the English home and the male in the driveway told him his best friend was dead. He said there was a young male, slumped on his left side. Penrod said he checked the pulse and determined he was dead.
According to Penrod, Ryan English identified the deceased young man as Lane Wolfe. Penrod said he observed a scope rifle, but told jurors he did not collect any evidence.
Chad Kaylor, investigator with Massac County Sheriff’s Department said he arrived at the scene of the crime at 4:20 a.m. and met with Penrod and Brown and was briefed on what had taken place. “Ryan was in a state of hysteria,” he said.
According to Kaylor, the firearm was a .22 caliber scope rifle, which he found facing outward from the garage, to the right side of Wolfe’s body. The safety on the gun was in between fire and safety. He said there was a spent casing, magazine with an unspent round, 22 shell casings and two additional spent casings.
He said he contacted ISP to assist in the investigation. Kaylor said he did not attend the autopsy of Wolfe and he went on to say that after the initial interviews, ISP took over the investigation.
Next on the stand was ISP Special Investigator Alicia Barr, a special investigator with ISP for two years, who told the jury ISP took over the investigation on Nov. 16, 2012.
According to Barr, the timeline of that night is skewed. She said that is skewed because of the different accounts from the teenagers involved and depending on the alcohol intoxication levels that night and because when dealing with teenagers, they often do not pay attention to details.
Barr said investigators were able to recover text messages from Wolfe’s cellular phone. Among the texts were some between Wolfe and his girlfriend, Christa English, whom he had been dating for six months.
Barr showed jurors a photo taken of Wolfe’s left thigh, which had the letters scratched: “Y M E.” Among the text message retrieved was one from Wolfe to his girlfriend saying, “I’m coming over or killing myself.” Another message also from Wolfe to Christa English read: “ Either now or not.”
According to Barr, the exact time of death ranges from 1:54 to 2:15 a.m., with nearly two hours lapsing before the 911 call was placed.
While Barr was on the stand, she said the boys there at the time of the shooting had had a party with alcohol involved and it was cleaned up prior to the 911 call. She said that a month later when ISP took over the investigation, the stash of alcohol that was hidden was still there, and she said it was more than just a case of beer. According to Barr, the teens at the party had admitted to playing “beer pong” that night.
Barr said the firearm involved in the fatal shooting was considered to be not completely off and not completely on, stating the firearm was malfunctioning.
Barr then read a portion of the preliminary autopsy, which indicated the cause of death was due to the cerebral perforation to the right temple from a gunshot wound. She also read that Wolfe’s blood alcohol level was .165, which is double the legal limit and that Wolfe tested negative for synthetic marijuana.
Another factor noted in the preliminary autopsy was that Wolfe had the early stages of an enlarged heart.
Barr said that regarding the firearm, there were no “suitable fingerprints” found on the weapon.
She pointed out to the jury that measurements were taken on Wolfe’s arm and on the weapon, and it was determined that his arm was long enough to have pulled the trigger.
Barr said it was determined that Wolfe’s body was moved, and the weapon was moved. She said the rifle belonged to the English family.
Also taking the stand during the inquest was Ryan English, Ross Devers, Dalton Korte and Jared Oliver.
Prior to the jurors going into deliberations, Fitch asked if any of Wolfe’s family members would like to address the jurors. Daniel Wolfe, Lane’s father, took the stand to tell jurors a little bit about his son.
“He was not a suicidal person,” said Wolfe, telling jurors his son was in a great mood and looking forward to hanging out with his girlfriend the next day.
“He had a big, soft heart and tried to do better in life,” he said, adding he was a father to the son he had. “Everyone felt better in Lane’s presence. He was that kind of a person,” stating that his son had so many friends and was well liked and loved by everybody.
According to Daniel Wolfe, his son was saved and “he would speak of his love of God.” He said Lane loved his son and that he was a good athlete.
In fact, Wolfe testified that he had talked to his son’s coach to make sure he was not letting things in his life bring him down.
He said there are so many questions he has. “Why wait so long to call 911?” he asked.
“Something happened. It was a horrible accident,” he said, adding, “He [Lane] wouldn’t have hurt his family or friends.”
The last person taking the stand was Justin Wolfe, of Vienna, Lane’s uncle, who began with, “What a nephew he was.” Justin Wolfe said his nephew was known for that smile he had and for his love for his fellow man.