Jury convicts man in West Jeff shooting deaths

(Posted Feb. 7, 2024)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

Following a week-long trial, John Paul Steckel, 37, of Franklin County was found guilty of four counts of aggravated murder for the shooting deaths of four Madison County residents in West Jefferson in May of 2021. Madison County Common Pleas Judge Eamon Costello sentenced Steckel to four life sentences without parole.

The trial took place the week of Jan. 29. After hearing closing arguments on Feb. 2. the jury deliberated for approximately four hours before delivering their verdict. In addition to the murder convictions, the jury found Steckel guilty of four firearm specifications for committing the murders with a firearm. He was sentenced to an additional 12 years in prison for those counts.

About the outcome, Madison County Prosecutor Nicholas Adkins said, “The No. 1 thought I have is that I am pleased to bring closure to the afflicted families.”

The crime was perpetrated on May 24, 2021. The West Jefferson Police Department received a 911 call about a male with a possible gunshot wound lying at the rear of a residence at 127 Jackson St. in West Jefferson. Upon arriving at the scene, officers found one male lying outside the residence and two males and one female inside the residence. All four had suffered gunshot wounds and were pronounced dead at the scene.

The victims were: Andrew T. Swindall, Shawn A. Wright, Jamie D. Lavender, and Leon B. Daniels.

Investigators used a combination of video footage from residential and business surveillance cameras and information from cell phone service providers to positively identify Steckel as the suspect. The information also helped investigators to identify Steckel’s girlfriend, Mickael Hairston of Franklin County, who had been with Steckel at the scene, Adkins said. Hairston cooperated with the authorities and testified as an eyewitness at the trial.

All of the parties involved knew one another. Steckel and Hairston had arrived at the residence at approximately 10 p.m. the night before the shootings, Adkins said. Hairston testified that Steckel, influenced by drug use and lack of sleep, came up with a plan to rob and kill the others.

Steckel has an extensive criminal history. At the time the trial started for the quadruple homicide, he had 10 prior felony convictions, Adkins said.

The West Jefferson Police Department served as the lead agency in the investigation. They were assisted by the Madison County Prosecutor’s Office, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Madison County Sheriff’s Office, Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, London Police Department, and Montgomery County Coroner’s Office. Madison County Victim Advocate Brooke Musselman served as a liaison between the victims’ families and the Prosecutor’s Office.

“We are grateful as a community to have such an immense effort of teamwork during our most vulnerable times of grief,” said West Jefferson Police Chief Brandon Smith.

“Teamwork, cooperation, and commitment are fundamental values to achieve a common goal. Through the willingness to work together toward this common purpose, we have achieved justice together.”

Smith added, “Our hearts go out to the victims’ families, and our prayers are forever with you.”

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