Grand jury to hear cases against Plymale, Bowman

Amber Gillenwater

February 16, 2014

GALLIPOLIS — A grand jury will now hear the case against a Gallia County man accused of murder following the discovery of a body at a home near Patriot earlier this month.

On Wednesday, Joseph D. Plymale, 27, Bidwell, was present for a preliminary hearing in the Gallipolis Municipal Court.

Plymale, who his charged with murder, aggravated robbery, weapons under disability, theft of a motor vehicle and theft of weapons, appeared with his defense counsel Winston G. Woodyard. Representing the State of Ohio was Assistant Gallia County Prosecuting Attorney Britt Wiseman.

During the hearing, the court was informed by the defense counsel that the defendant wished to waive his right to a preliminary hearing. Upon the waiver, the court bound the case over to the Common Pleas Court of Gallia County for consideration by a grand jury.

Plymale remains in custody at the Gallia County Jail under a $2 million bond.

Plymale’s co-defendant in this case, Christopher W. Bowman, 34, Gallipolis, was present in the municipal court last Tuesday for a preliminary hearing.

Charges of complicity to theft and receiving stolen property were bound over to the common pleas court, while a charge of complicity to aggravated robbery was dismissed as the court found that there was insufficient evidence as presented at the preliminary hearing to find probable cause to bind this case over to a grand jury.

It is expected that additional charges may be presented against Bowman during the next session of the grand jury.

Bowman is being held in the Gallia County Jail under a $500,000, 10 percent bond. He is being represented by defense counselor William Eachus.

An investigation into this case began after deputies with the Gallia County Sheriff’s Office were contacted to conduct a well-being check on John S. Sheets, 58, on the evening of Feb. 5 after being informed that he had not been seen in two days and his truck was found abandoned on Dan Jones Road.

Sheets’ body was reportedly found in his home on Wray Road, and Gallia County Coroner Dr. Daniel Whiteley reportedly later determined that the victim in this case had been killed by a gunshot wound and that the manner of death was homicide.

According to complaints filed last Monday with the Gallipolis Municipal Court and signed by Sheriff Joe Browning, after being interviewed by investigators, Bowman stated that he had dropped off Plymale on the afternoon of Feb. 3 near the Sheets residence and then drove around for a while before being contacted by Plymale to pick him up.

Bowman reportedly met Plymale, who was driving the victim’s truck, on Dan Jones Road and assisted Plymale in loading stolen guns from Sheets’ truck into Bowman’s Jeep. Bowman also reportedly told investigators that he and the co-defendant had taken the guns to Plymale’s storage unit.

Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation Agents and Gallia-Meigs Major Crimes Task Force agents later found Plymale in the possession of a pillow case and guns that were determined to have been stolen from the victim’s residence on Feb. 3 — the date that investigators believe that the victim was killed.

The complaints further state that Plymale has a prior felony record for possession of drugs and attempted burglary and has not been relieved of weapons disability.

Gallia County Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys, Eric Mulford and Britt Wiseman, later explained that the investigation into the murder of Sheets has progressed expeditiously since initial arrests were made in the case on the evening of Feb. 7.

“We were able to prepare and execute multiple search warrants for dwellings, storage facilities, and vehicles which led to key pieces of evidence and multiple arrests,” Mulford stated.

As of last Monday afternoon, authorities reported that a total of 10 search warrants had been executed surrounding the investigation in this case, and an additional four arrests have been made.

Mulford and Wiseman explained that throughout the early morning hours of Feb. 8, investigators were receiving information concerning the death of Sheets, and through this ongoing investigation, information was received that the led to the uncovering of other criminal activities unrelated to the murder, specifically a home in Gallia County where heroin was being sold.

As a result of this, Earl Hager, 55, and Nancy Kirk, 28, were both arrested for the possession of heroin.

“Any time we can disrupt drug activity that is infecting our community, it’s a good day for all Gallia County residents,” Wiseman said.

Hager and Kirk appeared in the Gallipolis Municipal Court on Wednesday. Their cases were also bound over to the grand jury.

Also arrested through the ongoing investigation into the murder of Sheets, were Cody Hockman, 28, Bidwell, and Michelle Coughenour, 40, Patriot, who were apprehended near a Bidwell-area apartment complex on Feb. 8 after Plymale allegedly sold Hockman a rifle that is believed to have belonged to Sheets.

Hockman was later arrested on a felony warrant and is facing a possible charge of receiving stolen property, while Coughenour was arrested on a misdemeanor warrant.

Gallia County Sheriff Joe Browning further reported on Monday that the incidents surrounding Sheets’ death and the subsequent six arrests that have been made are a direct result of illicit drug trade.

“We feel like the whole situation is heroin-driven,” Browning said. “We found heroin at the apartment, heroin at the camper and we have information that the two suspects in this case were addicted to heroin.”

Further information on this case will be released as it is made available by investigators.