Oct. 30-GRANGEVILLE - A 24-year-old Peck man was bound over to 2nd District Court to face a charge of second degree murder in connection with the Sept. 26 death of Wayne M. Hodges. 24, of Orofino.
Following a nearly nine-hour preliminary hearing Friday, Magistrate Jeff P. Payne expressed deep reservations that Idaho County Prosecutor Kirk A. MacGregor had presented convincing evidence tying Chase W. Chandler to the murder.
The burden of proof in a preliminary hearing, Payne noted, is far less than what is required for a conviction in a jury trial, in which jurors must find beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.
Chandler has been in custody on a $500,000 bond since his arrest Sept. 28. According to a criminal complaint, Chandler is accused of striking Hodges in the head with a blunt instrument or club, sufficient enough to cause cranial fractures and death. Hodges' body was discovered a short distance away from a camper that had burned at an undeveloped campground near Lolo Creek in Idaho County.
An autopsy was performed on Hodges and Chandler was taken into custody at his parents' home in Peck.
"This case is somewhat unusual; somewhat odd," Payne said at the conclusion of the hearing.
"Evidence points toward Mr. Chandler as possibly doing this, but there's nothing specifically that ties him to this. ... I find that there is probable cause among different options but I don't have to find beyond a reasonable doubt and I wouldn't find beyond a reasonable doubt based on what I've heard here today."
Witnesses on Friday said Chandler, Hodges and his wife, Ashtin, and two others went camping near Lolo Creek on Sept. 25 and planned to cut firewood while there. Hodges, Chandler and Jacob Stevens went into the woods near midnight to begin cutting wood when an altercation allegedly took place between Hodges and Chandler and Chandler ran away into the woods. He reportedly told detectives later he believed Hodges was going to kill him - possibly because Chandler had been sexually involved with Hodges' wife, Ashtin.
Chandler reportedly roamed through the woods for a day and a half before returning to the campground late the next night. He told detectives he then got into his vehicle and drove away.
Meanwhile Stevens, Ashtin Hodges and two other women had gone out looking for Chandler. Hodges stayed back at the camp and when the group returned an hour or so later the camper was on fire; Hodges was nowhere to be found and Chandler's vehicle was gone.
Payne pointed out that nobody found Hodges' body until a volunteer fireman - who had arrived to help put out the camper fire - discovered it.
Chandler also reportedly had conversations with investigators where he admitted to injecting methamphetamine during the camping trip and also witnessing Hodges cutting up the bodies of his two nieces and hiding them in a cooler. No evidence was presented to corroborate that claim.
"He was aggressive and hostile and had been hallucinating," Payne said. But hard evidence pointing to Chandler as Hodges' killer "is mostly speculation. ... There's a lack of evidence that he did, but there are circumstances that does find that he probably did."
Chandler will appear in District Court on Nov. 8 at 1:15 p.m. to enter a plea and have a jury trial scheduled. He is being represented by Idaho County Public Defender John A. Wiltse.
Hedberg may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 983-2326.