Three witnesses testify in second Carroll double homicide pre-trial hearing

MAYVILLE – The Elmira man accused of leading three men to burglarize a Carroll residence and murder the homeowners inside last year was merely a passive witness to “something very bad.”

The claim, made by Davide Coggins to interrogators the day of his arrest, was one of several details discussed in his second pre-trial hearing Thursday at the Chautauqua County Courthouse in Mayville.

Coggins, whose trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 16, was taken into custody April 17, 2013, the same day he and three other Elmira men – Joshua McCormick, Ricky Knickerbocker and Steven Todd – allegedly invaded the 232 Wheeler Hill Road residence of Gordon and Joyce Skinner, stabbed them multiple times and set their home ablaze.

David Foley, Chautauqua County district attorney, and his prosecution team spent much of the first pre-trial hearing on the arrest of Coggins, which involved New York State Police tracking down his vehicle in Horseheads, roughly seven miles north of Elmira.

On Thursday, Foley’s team shifted attention to Coggins’ “post-arrest,” calling three witnesses who were involved in interviewing the defendant or searching his property shortly after he was detained.

The first witness was Karl Aepelbacher, a criminal investigator with the State Police in Horseheads, who questioned Coggins for more than an hour at the Horseheads barracks.

Aepelbacher described how Coggins painted himself as more of a witness to a crime than an actual participant. He also stated that Coggins didn’t want an attorney, but rather wanted to speak directly to the district attorney before giving any extensive details.

The second witness, Larry Klajbor, a criminal investigator with the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office, corroborated this testimony.

Klajbor arrived at the Horseheads barracks later that evening and interviewed Coggins for approximately three hours.

Coggins told Klajbor that he and the three aforementioned men had traveled to Jamestown to drop off a friend.

When the three men suggested stealing from the carport of the Skinner residence, Coggins said he had reservations because the Skinners were relatives.

Caving into their demands, Coggins allegedly dropped off his friends at the Skinner home between 1 and 2 a.m. and left for a local Rite Aid.

Coggins told Klajbor that upon his return, he noticed that his friends had gone inside and attacked the couple. He alleged seeing McCormick, in particular, dragging Joyce Skinner on the stairwell.

The four left for Elmira shortly afterward, where they took showers at a friend’s house and ditched their clothes.

The final witness for the prosecution was Timothy Hollern, a criminal investigator and field intelligence officer with the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office.

Hollern filled out the search warrant applications for Coggins’ vehicle, personal belongings and two cellphones.

Coggins allegedly stole jewelry, a rifle, a shotgun and loose coins from the Skinner residence.

Public Defender Nathaniel Barone, who is representing Coggins, again questioned witnesses about police protocol and whether it was exercised correctly in the arrest and investigation of Coggins.

He also requested to Judge John T. Ward that a third pre-trial hearing be held to question a New York State Trooper at the Horseheads barracks who may have had some communication with Coggins after Klajbor’s interview concluded.

The third pre-trial hearing is scheduled for Thursday at 2 p.m.

Coggins and McCormick were indicted by a Chautauqua County grand jury for first-degree murder.

Knickerbocker, who was 18 at the time of the homicides, is facing a second-degree murder charge. The men are also facing burglary and arson charges.

In March, Steven Todd pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree manslaughter and is expected to testify against the other defendants.