ASHLAND - A refusal to pay for illegal drugs allegedly led to a fatal shooting at Almond Tree Inn on Monday, according to Ashland County Prosecutor Chris Tunnell.
New details about shooting were revealed Wednesday as the four suspects in the case each had an initial court appearance.
The defendants are Samuel Castle, 17, of 330 Ohio St.; Gregg A. Kuzawa II, 18, 502 Ohio St.; Tyler A. Morris, also known as Tyler A. Mullins, 17, of 223 W. Washington St. and Michael S. Watson, 17, of 111 W. 10th St.
Each of the four has been charged by complaint with complicity to aggravated murder, complicity to aggravated burglary and complicity to attempted murder. In adult court, each of the charges is considered a first-degree felony. The complaints also include firearm specifications.
Castle, Morris and Watson appeared before Ashland County Juvenile Court Judge Damian Vercillo for juvenile detention hearings, though their cases may be bound over to adult court at a later date.
Kuwaza appeared video conference for a bond hearing and arraignment before Ashland County Common Pleas Magistrate Paul Lange.
During all four hearings, Ashland County Prosecutor Chris Tunnell read a statement describing what investigators say happened before, during and after the shooting.
On Sunday, Tunnell said, 26-year-old Timothy Maust and 28-year-old Elizabeth Bunnell arranged to purchase $50 to $60 worth of methamphetamines from Morris.
The prosecutor said Morris sent Watson to deliver the drugs to Bunnell and Maust at The Almond Tree Inn, a short-term apartment complex at 1423 Cleveland Ave.
Maust and Bunnell accepted the product, but closed the door to the residence, refusing to pay, Tunnell said.
On multiple occasions Sunday and Monday, at the request of Morris, various individuals, including Castle, Watson and Kuzawa went to the Almond Tree Inn in attempts to secure payment from Bunnell and Maust.
On Monday, the four suspects jointly planned to kill Maust and Bunnell in order to "make a statement," Tunnell said, quoting the words of one of the co-defendants.
Morris provided a .22 caliber Ruger pistol to Watson, who returned to the Almond Tree Inn with Castle and Kuzawa.
"At approximately 11:30 p.m., the trio forcibly opened the door to Room 8 and Michael Watson opened fire on Timothy Maust and Elizabeth Bunnell, who were the sole occupants of the room," Tunnell said.
Maust was killed and Bunnell was shot twice. She was treated at OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital and is expected to survive.
Watson returned the firearm to Morris, who disassembled it and attempted to hide the pieces, Tunnell said.
Attorney Matthew Malone has been appointed to represent Morris and attorney Bernard Davis was appointed to represent Kuzawa. The court is still working to arrange appointed counsel for the other two defendants.
Vercillo indicated all three juvenile defendants have had prior contact with his court.
In response to questions from the community about why the juveniles are not being charged as adults, Tunnell said he does not have the ability to do so. He must initiate the charges in juvenile court and later file a motion to move the cases to adult court.
Based on the ages of the juvenile defendants and on the severity of the charges, the judge will be required to bind the cases over to adult court if certain conditions are met, Tunnell said.
According to Tunnell, Kuzawa had an extensive background in juvenile court. Since turning 18, he has had three cases in Ashland Municipal Court, including charges of assault, underage consumption and obstructing official business.
Kuzawa entered not guilty pleas on all charges and specifications. His bond was set at $500,000, and a preliminary hearing in his case was scheduled for June 19 at 8:30 a.m.
Further court appearances have not yet been scheduled for the three juveniles. The judge ruled they should remain in custody, not only for the safety of others, but also for their own safety.
Vercillo said law enforcement officers informed him of threats made on social media against the suspects.
Watson, Castle and Morris are being held in the Richland County Juvenile Detention Center and Kuwaza remains at the Ashland County Jail.
All four suspects were ordered to have no contact with their co-defendants or with victims or families of victims.