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Family demands answers from Marion County law enforcement in death of Charles Echols III

Times West Virginian - 11/5/2023

Nov. 4—FAIRMONT — Precious Echols traveled eight hours from North Carolina to deliver one simple message to the community of Fairmont.

She wants justice for her father, Charles Echols III, who's case revolves around the July 30 altercation between Lee Ann Chacon, Michael Joseph Costello and Echols. The altercation turned deadly as Echols was shot multiple times.

"Traveling down here was tough, I feel that, even having to do this, because I'm not getting answers, I don't really have information of what happened," she said. "So I feel like this is the only thing I could do to try to show we want answers."

She, along with some 20 friends and other members of the family gathered at Veterans Square in Fairmont on Saturday to protest the manner in which the Marion County Sheriff and Marion County Prosecuting Attorney have handled her father's case.

Although there was an initial meeting where Precious Echols received some details surrounding her father's death, she said the prosecutor's office hasn't followed up or returned multiple phone calls she's made to find out more information. This lack of communication has built up the perception there is a lack of transparency from local law enforcement regarding the case.

According to Marion County Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Freeman, the legalities surrounding this case are unclear.

In previous reporting, he stated his office awaits the results of forensic evidence taken on the night of the killing. However, a backlog due to staffing and other challenges at the West Virginia Forensic Lab has held up Freeman's office from proceeding with the case. Freeman said no arrests have been made because so far, what available evidence exists does not contradict the narrative Costello and Chacon put forth of that night, which appears to be related to self defense.

However, despite what information the prosecutor's office has provided, those close to Echols say not enough information has been released regarding exactly what happened the night Echols died. Also present are messy complications over what might be alleged infidelity on Chacon's behalf and who was paying the mortgage on the house in Deerfield. These, along with other unverified details proliferated at the event. However, despite their veracity, those are the only leads Precious Echols and her loved ones have over what happened to her Father in July.

"There's just been nothing said, been done, it's been forgotten," Amy Jones, long time friend of Echols, said. "Nobody is talking about this. Nobody has said anything. The children have reached out to detectives, prosecutors, they get no answers."

The lack of accountability bothers Jones, who questioned what would happen if Echols himself had been the one to shoot either Chacon or Costello that night. Charles Echols III was Black, while Chacon and Costello are white.

She believes had that been the case, officials would have already released the identity of the shooter as well as provided the family with justice and some type of resolution. However, she worries that because two of the people involved in this case are state corrections employees, the case is being swept under the rug. The fear of a coverup was widely shared by several at the protest.

"People just don't die with no accountability," Jones said. "You are a trained correctional officer who's been trained to handle convicted felons and people who are awaiting a murder trial but when it comes down to it you shoot someone three times? You have no ability to physically grab an unarmed person? It doesn't make any sense. Make it make sense."

Colyn Jones, an activist and longtime friend of Charles Echols III, does not buy the self defense angle. He said correctional officers are trained to restrain inmates, and it doesn't make sense to him that two people who are used to dealing with prisoners couldn't restrain an unarmed man without shooting him first.

He believes an outside agency, such as the FBI, should intervene and launch an investigation because an inherent conflict of interest exists in having two sister regional law enforcement agencies investigate each other.

"Marion County pays these regional jails to house our prisoners, so they have a contact, they have a relationship, and they live here in Fairmont," Colyn Jones said. "So, instead you just say, no investigation, you're my friend, it's easy to sweep it all under the rug as self defense. It's easy to say that but that's not what that officer swore his duty to. If this was murder, somebody should be locked up."

Leo Riley, pastor at Agape Life Ministries in Fairmont, said transparency in cases like this is important because it provides the family with closure. He was among the crowd present who showed up to support Precious Echols in her search for justice.

"We want to make sure that everything is above table," he said. "If there's something that the community needs to know that they will publicize it, I think the family deserves that. If it was self defense, we want to know why, what proof do you have? And if not, we want to make sure that somebody is held accountable for what took place."

Precious Echols said she will be seeking an attorney in order to consider her next steps. John Kemet Shabazz-El, an activist from Morgantown who helped emcee the protest, said that his group, Souls for Justice, is helping Precious Echols with the attorney search. He said it's important to protect the rights of the family.

Regardless of what happens next, one thing was clear — Charles Echols III will be missed by many members of the community who had strong ties with him. His influence on the people around him was outsized, and was reflected by the people who showed up for him in death.

"The other day I'm flipping through my phone, like 'man, I need to ask somebody,' whose number did I come across? His," Amy Jones said. "It's a loss because that was somebody, if I had something going on or if I needed somebody to talk to or if I needed to cry on his shoulder, he was there. He was that one. He was that one for a lot of people."

Reach Esteban at efernandez@timeswv.com

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