This is the second part of a series on an incident with the Kehoe brothers that put Wilmington in the national spotlight beginning on Feb. 15, 1997.
After a shootout with police on Feb. 15, 1997, and then fleeing the scene, fugitives Cheyne and Chevie Kehoe eventually made their way back to their families and traveled to Utah, where they convinced a local rancher to let them work for him. The brothers grew distant and Cheyne ended up leaving the ranch with his family.
In June of 1997, in his hometown of Colville, Washington, he surrendered to authorities through a church pastor who was used as an intermediary to contact the Stevens Sheriff’s Office.
The task now was getting both men back to Clinton County and bringing them to trial. The brothers faced 16 counts of indictments. They were accused of shooting at a state trooper, deputy sheriff, and two police officers in two separate shootouts, among other charges.
Sergeant John Born, the spokesperson for the Ohio State Highway Patrol, said in an interview, “We’re pleased that Cheyne Kehoe was captured peacefully and we hope that at some point, Chevie is captured peacefully and turns himself in.”
Chevie ended up being caught at the ranch in Utah, and both men were in custody.
On July 17, 1997, Chevie was be brought to Wilmington. Jay Carey was at the Clinton County Courthouse that day along with many other regional and national reporters. The temperature reached 90 degrees as Clinton County locals waited to catch a glimpse of one of the men that turned the county upside-down.
Chevie was escorted by Clinton County Sheriff Ralph Fizer Sr., U.S. Marshal Wallace Smith, and CCSO Lt. Brian Prickett. It was reported that Chevie Kehoe was smiling and winking as he was taken into the courthouse.
Assistant county prosecutor Rick Moyer, judge Bill McCracken, and a very on-edge courtroom awaited Kehoe. Chevie had state public defenders David Bodiker and Jerry McHenry at his side while the 11 counts against him were read aloud.
After a $20 million bond was set and a trial date was scheduled for Sept. 22, the initial hearing was over and Chevie was taken out of the courtroom.
The trial was delayed until Dec. 8, due to the defense needing more time. At one point, they wanted to move the case out of the Clinton County, but that would not come to be.
On Jan. 24, 1998, a front-page story ran in the Wilmington News Journal that read “County Still Plans on Kehoe Trial.” In the write-up by Jeff Hibbs, Clinton County Prosecutor Bill Peelle stated, “We still don’t have any reason to believe we won’t go to trial.”
Chevie had trial dates awaiting him throughout the country for various things; however, Clinton County was top priority for Bill Peelle and the prosecutor’s office.
On Feb. 21, 1998, Gary Huffenberger’s News Journal story had bold headlines that read, “Kehoe pleads guilty to three charges.” There would be no trial after all. The prosecutor’s office had offered a plea bargain if he plead guilty to attempted murder, felonious assault and carrying a concealed weapon.
Sentencing would have to wait until the federal charges of murder, racketeering and conspiracy were heard in Arkansas involving another case. Peelle intended to ask for a 20-year sentence on the local charges. Chevie spoke and stated that he loved his brother very much.
But what of his brother, and what would now happen to him?
Cheyne Kehoe was put through much of the same process that Chevie was, except he turned down a plea bargain and wanted to go to trial.
Cheyne’s trial was set to begin in January 1998. His defense team claimed that the officers had opened fire first and the brothers acted in self-defense.
Rick Moyer, who was part of the prosecution team, said, “Documentation of the incident shoots holes in the defense theory.” This was one of many quotes in the back-and-forth statements between the defense and prosecution in a write-up by Jeff Hibbs.
One example was when Chevie’s attorney, Jeffery Hoskins of Hillsboro, said, “The videotape will prove Deputy Gates fired his gun four times before Kehoe discharged his weapon.”
In response, Moyer stated, “Hoskins can try to sell the jury on anything he wants, including the self-defense theory. I think the facts and physical evidence speak for themselves.”
With a pool of 75 jurors to choose from, there was no question that this trial would be followed by many.
To be continued …
Jonathan McKay is a Clinton County native and a current member of Wilmington City Council.