The jury trial against one of two defendants in a case involving two murders in the Oak Hill area in late October 2020 is officially underway in Jackson County Common Pleas Court.

Jury selection kicked off on Monday, May 3 in the State of Ohio’s case against defendant Lonnie L. Sheets, who is charged with two counts of aggravated murder (with a gun specification), two counts of attempted murder (with a gun specification), one count of felonious assault (with a gun specification) and one count of tampering with evidence. When that process wrapped up Tuesday morning, May 4, opening statements were provided by both the State, represented by Jackson County Assistant Prosecutor Colleen Williams, and the defense, represented by Athens-based attorney Robert Toy.

Background

The charges against Lonnie and his wife Lisa L. Sheets, who is being tried separately, stem from a pair of shootings that took place on Oct. 30, 2020 in the Oak Hill area that left two individuals dead and another injured.

The injured male, identified as Paul E. Sheets, 51, of 216-1/2 Ohio Ave., was taken to Cabell Huntington Hospital, in Huntington, W.Va., and was later released. The female victim, identified as 48-year-old Tabatha Sheets of 216-1/2 Ohio Avenue, was taken to Grant Medical Center in Columbus, where she later succumbed to her injuries.

While Jackson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO), Oak Hill Police Department (OHPD) and Ohio Bureau of Investigation and Identification (BCI&I) personnel were investigating the Ohio Avenue scene on Oct. 30, another call came in of a shooting just after 7 a.m. in Hamilton Township.

Jackson County Coroner Dr. Alice Frazier was called to 1473 Dark Hollow Road, which is several miles west of Oak Hill, where the body of David Yeley, 61, was discovered. Yeley was declared dead at the scene and his body was taken to the Montgomery County Coroner's Office for an autopsy. At that time, Jackson County Sheriff Tedd Frazier stated that investigators believed the shootings were connected.

As of 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 30, two “persons of interest” had been charged with the shooting of Paul E. Sheets -- Lonnie, 58, and Lisa, 57, both of State Route 140, Wheelersburg.

Lonnie and Lisa Sheets were both arraigned in Jackson County Common Pleas Court on Dec. 23. Both defendants plead not guilty to all respective charges, and the bonds for both parties were continued at the original amounts set previously through the Jackson County Municipal Court, at $1 million, 10-percent cash or full surety.

Opening Statements

The prosecution began by going over the particulars of the date in question with members of the jury. Williams explained that the call came in at approximately 2:15 a.m. on Oct. 30 of last year, and that responding officers and emergency medical service (EMS) personnel discovered Paul Sheets on the floor of the Ohio Avenue, Oak Hill residence “shot in the head and bleeding.” The other victim at that scene, Paul’s wife Tabatha Sheets, was said to have been in grave condition.

Williams stated that Paul told EMS personnel and OHPD Chief David P. Ward that his brother Lonnie had shot him, and that Lisa was also involved.

“He told EMS that the defendant’s gun jammed, that Lonnie had pistol-whipped him, and that he had to fight Lonnie off to run from the home,” Williams explained. She went on to say that one responding EMT noted Paul had been shot in the ear and had contusions consistent with his claims of having been pistol-whipped.

Subsequent interviews with Paul and law enforcement officers, according to Williams, allege that Paul and returned home that early morning to find Lonnie walking down the hall. Lonnie reportedly told his brother Paul that Tabatha was in the bathroom. At that point, Williams claims Paul noticed Lonnie had a gun, and that Lonnie shot Paul, though he was able to escape to a neighboring residence.

Williams stated a BCI&I agent tasked with processing the scene found two .32-caliber cartridge casings at the Ohio Ave. residence – one near the front door and another behind the bathroom door. After learning of the shooting, Williams says a man at the scene told officers he had sold Lonnie a .32-caliber automatic handgun just two days prior.

While en route to the second shooting incident that morning on Dark Hollow Road, Williams continued, officers were told that deputies with the Scioto County Sheriff’s Office had located Lonnie and Lisa at their Wheelersburg home. As a result, she says officers proceeded to the Scioto County residence, arriving between 3 and 5 a.m., conducted a consented search, towed the Sheets’ vehicle to a secure location, and took the two into custody. It was during their conversation with Lonnie that JCSO deputies learned that Yeley had been found deceased at his Dark Hollow Road residence, according to Williams.

Later, Williams says deputies obtained a search warrant for the home and vehicle of Lonnie and Lisa Sheets and conducted a more thorough search. She says a .32-caliber shell casing was found in the home between the couch and wall, and that samples of “what appeared to be blood” were taken from the vehicle, which were submitted for DNA testing. Williams stated Lonnie’s blood was found on the vehicle’s passenger-side headrest, while Paul’s blood was found on the interior passenger-side door. Another .32-caliber shell casing was also allegedly found at the Dark Hollow Road residence. Williams said forensic scientists confirmed that the shell casing found in Lonnie and Lisa’s home was the same kind located at Yeley’s home.

She said the State would have the testimony of an expert who analyzed all firearm-related evidence, that would “show support for the same source.”

“At each one of these three places, the same consistent thing was found - .32-caliber ammunition,” Williams said during the Tuesday morning hearing.

Additionally, Williams said members of the jury would have the opportunity to watch video surveillance footage from a Scioto County ammunition store the day prior to the shootings, that allegedly depict Lisa purchasing .32-caliber ammunition and subsequently entering the passenger-side of the Sheets’ vehicle.

“Each step through this, Lisa and Lonnie were working together,” Williams claimed. Evidence will show they were both involved with all of these crimes. Lonnie and Lisa committed these crimes together; each one played a role.”

For the defense, attorney Toy urged members of the jury to keep in mind what they had just heard.

“Remember what they said they’re going to be able to prove,” he stated. “See if they can prove it to you beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Toy then said video footage from between 1:14 a.m. and 1:16 a.m. on the morning of Oct. 30, 2020 would offer jurors the last view of Tabatha Sheets alive. He said she was in a vehicle with her husband, Paul, and another female named Rebecca Montgomery.

“They were there, even according to Paul Sheets, to collect money for his drug-dealing business,” Toy said. “He was there to get $40 from Montgomery, to whom he had fronted ice or methamphetamine.”

The group, Toy stated, went to allow Montgomery to withdraw a total of $700, which had been loaded to her bank card at 1 a.m. that morning.

“That is not in dispute,” he stated. “You’ll be able to see it. What happens after that is going to be in dispute.”

Toy then drew attention to the State’s claim that Lonnie and Lisa had been “working together,” describing their relationship as “extremely volatile.” He again said jurors would be given the opportunity to view another bit of video, this time from Sept. 19, 2020, that allegedly shows Lisa and a friend “stalking Paul’s trailer,” and a police officer speaking with her.

“You can decide whether or not anyone could work with Lisa on a plan,” Toy said. “You’ll see a very volatile individual.”

At the 216 ½ Ohio Ave., Oak Hill home of Paul and Tabetha Sheets that morning, Toy explained, were Paul, Tabatha, Montgomery, Lonnie and Lisa. Paul then reportedly left the residence, claiming he was “going to see another drug dealer to obtain more drugs for Montgomery.”

“We don’t know exactly where he goes,” Toy stated. “There is no direct evidence of the shooting of David Yeley. None. They have .32-caliber casings and a .32-caliber [handgun] was used, no question about that. But nobody saw what happened. We don’t know where Paul went during the time he left the trailer.”

Toy then went on to say that when Paul returned to the residence, Montgomery, who lives in close proximity to the home in question, was not present.

“That’s one of the reasonable doubts you may have, because Paul claims that when he returned to the trailer, Montgomery was gone, even though she was there for a specific purpose – to get more drugs,” he said. “When he returns, he supposedly only sees Lonnie. There is no direct evidence of what happened to Tabatha. None.”

Lonnie, Toy continued, was the only individual that had his hands tested for gunshot residue, and those results reportedly came back negative. He specifically told the jury that none of the others (Paul, Montgomery or even Lisa Sheets) were tested, explaining further that such a test “only takes about 30 seconds.”

Toy stated the trial would include direct evidence of a fight between Lonnie and Paul that morning, the cause of which is undetermined.

“Lonnie was defending himself against his drug-dealing brother, Paul,” he alleged.

At the conclusion of his opening statement, defense counselor Toy stated the end of this case would leave a number of questions unanswered.

“Talk, reason, use your common sense and listen to the Court’s instructions for what reasonable doubt means,” he stressed. “I think you’ll find reasonable doubt. Lonnie Sheets is not guilty of murder and he’s not guilty of felonious assault.”

Following the opening statements, jurors were given the opportunity to view the respective crime scenes.

The trial against Lonnie Sheets is set to last through Wednesday, May 12, according to Common Pleas Court personnel.