A Whipple man is facing life in prison with up to 52 years before he can apply for parole after pleading guilty Thursday to the shotgun murder of a Marietta man in January.
"Guilty," Steven Leonhart, 36, answered when asked by Washington County Common Pleas Judge Susan Boyer how he would plead to the Jan. 12 aggravated murder of 35-year-old Willard D. "Willy" Baker, of 245 Caywood Road.
Leonhart also entered guilty pleas for one count of first-degree aggravated burglary and a second-degree charge of felonious assault during Thursday's hearing.
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
Whipple resident Steven Leonhart, 36, is escorted by deputies from Washington County Common Pleas Judge Susan Boyer’s courtroom Thursday after pleading guilty to the Jan. 12 murder of 35-year-old Willard D. “Willy” Baker on Caywood Road near Marietta.
He was indicted in January on charges of aggravated murder, first-degree felony attempted murder, first-degree felony kidnapping, two counts of aggravated burglary and second-degree felonious assault.
But on Thursday assistant county prosecutor Kevin Rings said the state had agreed to drop the attempted murder and kidnapping charges.
"We also originally sought the option of life without parole, but made a concession in exchange for the guilty plea to aggravated murder," he said.
- Jan. 12, 2012-Steven Leonhart is arrested for shooting and killing Willard D. "Willy" Baker at Baker's 245 Caywood Road residence. Leonhart was also charged with assaulting his ex-girlfriend, Holly Fickiesen, as well as Baker's next-door neighbor, Mike Lisk.
- Jan. 27 -Leonhart is indicted by a Washington County grand jury on charges of aggravated murder, first-degree felony attempted murder, first-degree felony kidnapping, two counts of aggravated burglary and second-degree felonious assault.
- April 2 -Leonhart, who had at first pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, is found competent to stand trial.
- Thursday-Washington County Prosecutor's Office drops charges of attempted murder, kidnapping and one count of aggravated burglary against Leonhart.
- Thursday-Leonhart enters pleas of guilty to charges of first-degree aggravated murder, one first-degree felony count of aggravated burglary and one second-degree count of felonious assault.
- Thursday-Washington County Common Pleas Judge Susan Boyer sets Oct. 1 for Leonhart's sentencing.
Source: Times research and the Washington County Prosecutor's Office.
Leonhart had been scheduled to go to trial Monday.
Boyer scheduled Leonhart's sentencing for Oct. 1 at 9 a.m.
Rings recapped for the court the Jan. 12 incident during which Leonhart attacked his ex-girlfriend, Holly Fickiesen, 40, of Marietta, shot and killed Fickiesen's boyfriend, Baker, and assaulted Baker's neighbor, Mike Lisk, who fell and broke his hip while trying to wrest the shotgun from Leonhart.
Rings said Leonhart and Fickiesen had dated for five years and lived together for four of those years prior to the 2012 incident.
Rings said Fickiesen met Baker in the fall of 2011 and the two began a relationship during which Fickiesen sometimes stayed at Baker's residence.
The prosecutor said on Jan. 12 Baker left for work at 6:30 a.m., unaware that Leonhart had driven a four-wheel-drive vehicle and hid near Baker's property with a 20-gauge shotgun.
Once Baker was gone, Leonhart broke into the residence and found Fickiesen in a bedroom where he assaulted her and said he was going to shoot her, Rings said.
Leonhart allowed Fickiesen to smoke a cigarette and was also smoking in the kitchen of the home when Baker, for unknown reasons, unexpectedly returned.
Rings said Leonhart fired the shotgun at close range into Baker's chest and Baker fell to the floor. Fickiesen tried to call 911, then ran from the house with Leonhart in pursuit. Fickiesen went next door into Lisk's residence and Leonhart tried to follow, but was confronted at the door by Lisk.
"They struggled over the weapon and Lisk fell to the floor, injuring his hip," Rings said. "He had to have the hip replaced later that day."
He said Leonhart later admitted to investigators that he had shot Baker.
Boyer asked Leonhart if he concurred with Rings' description of the incident.
"About half of it," Leonhart answered at first, but shortly after consulting with his attorney, Rolf Baumgartel, he told the judge he agreed with Rings' description.
Baumgartel explained to the court that Leonhart had no issue with the facts as they were presented, but the accused did not completely agree with conversations between Leonhart and Fickiesen as described by Rings.
Boyer then accepted Leonhart's request to plead guilty to the aggravated murder, aggravated burglary and felonious assault charges.
After the hearing, Washington County Sheriff Det. Mark Johnson, lead investigator in the case, said there had never been any doubt that Leonhart shot Baker as he had confessed it.
"It was pretty much an open and shut case," Johnson said.
He said entering into a plea agreement with Leonhart prevented a potentially long and expensive jury trial.
"This is a lot easier on the (Baker) family, not to go through the whole trial process," Johnson said, adding that family members seemed satisfied with the outcome.
"This also helps to reach some closure for them," he said.
Both Rings and Johnson noted Leonhart had no prior criminal record.
"He wasn't on anyone's radar," Rings said.