Jessica Pyke is not satisfied with the pace of criminal proceedings related to the March 6 death of her son, Eli Spangler, and she will continue calling for justice at a protest and memorial coinciding with Nelsonville’s trick or treat on Oct. 30.
Nelsonville resident Lori Crook, who is helping Pyke organize the demonstration, said the goal is not to disrupt trick or treat but rather to provide a chance for people in the community to show support during the event.
“I think that the community would like to express their support for Jessica and for Eli’s family and friends, and I think this will be a good opportunity to do that,” Crook said. “So, it’s two things: it’s demanding justice for Eli, and it’s also giving everyone who loved him the opportunity to speak about that.”
Pyke said hosting the event on trick or treat was also a way to memorialize Eli, because Halloween was one of his favorite holidays.
“He loved spooky things, especially him scaring the hell out of me,” Pyke said.
Spangler, 11, died on March 6, 2021. According to Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn, 14-year-old Mason Platt was playing with a firearm that went off and killed Spangler at the Platt’s home. Mason Platt was adjudicated as a delinquent in May by Athens County Juvenile Court Judge Zach Saunders and is now on intensive probation.
Donald Platt, Mason Platt’s father, was indicted in May on three charges: involuntary manslaughter, endangering children and tampering with evidence. A May 18 release from Blackburn’s office explains that the elder Platt owned the gun that killed Spangler.
According to the release, the charges allege Donald Platt “created a substantial risk to the health and safety of Spangler by violating a duty of care” and that he “allegedly locked the gun safe after the shooting, tampering with evidence of the investigation.”
Pyke said she feels conflicted about the charges for Donald Platt but says there needs to be consequences, and that the pace of the trial is making it difficult for her to achieve closure.
“I don’t necessarily agree that [Donald Platt] should get the charges he’s getting, but, at the same time, he maybe should, because he was responsible,” Pyke said. “And with them dragging it out, I’m never going to get closure. I’m never going to know the exact truth of what happened that night.”
Most recently, at an Oct. 6 pre-trial hearing, the defense was granted an additional pre-trial, according to Blackburn – further delaying the conclusion of the case.
Pyke said she thinks the case would move more quickly if Eli came from a rich family or family with more power in the criminal justice system. She also questioned the need for an additional pretrial hearing, claiming the defense attorney “knows everything. He just keeps buying his client time.”
Platt’s defense attorney could not be reached for comment by press time.
Blackburn, however, told the Messenger there’s nothing unusual about the pace of the case.
“This is very typical,” Blackburn said. “Multiple pretrials generally occur, and the defense attorney requested an additional pretrial, which they are entitled to.”
Pyke said she attempted to attend the most recent pretrial hearing but was asked to remain in the waiting room. After receiving the news that there would be another pretrial hearing, Pyke said she “started cussing them out every time they went to talk to me.”
“I told them shut their f***ing mouth,” Pyke said. “All they keep doing is just clowning me around. I’m sick of it. I told them I was gonna take matters into my own f***ing hands.”
Blackburn stressed that Platt is innocent until proven guilty and is “entitled to constitutional rights.”
“He has a right to legal counsel and a right to a process that takes place,” Blackburn said. “We are waiting for the court to set a final pretrial... I can’t control the timeline.”
If a resolution cannot be reached, Blackburn said he would expect the case to come before a grand jury.
Blackburn acknowledged that the slow pace of criminal justice proceedings can be difficult for victims and survivors in cases like this one.
“Nothing in the criminal justice system is going to make a victim recover from this horrific loss,” Blackburn said. “I know there’s always hope that something out of this will bring closure, but we’ve provided services and are providing services to help, and we’re also doing everything we can to get justice from the state.”
As part of the effort to ensure justice through the criminal justice system, Blackburn urged patience.
“Those accused of a crime are entitled to an impartial trial,” Blackburn said. “I’d encourage everyone to allow the system to do its job.”
Crook, however, said public demonstrations like the one she and Pyke are planning are important to ensuring both justice within the system and justice that is more far-reaching than what the system could provide.
“Justice means more than just one thing,” Crook said. “I would really like to see a larger community conversation about what happened and how we can prevent this in the future. Whether or not it’s more support for troubled kids... or whether it’s gun safety training or providing gun safes. I don’t know the answer exactly, but what I do know is that in addition to them being held accountable... we also need to have a larger community discussion.”
Pyke said the event, which will begin at 5 p.m. on the Nelsonville Public Square, will provide trick-or-treaters with signs reading ‘Justice for Eli’ that they can pin to their costumes.
The demonstration follows a previous event organized by Pyke and Crook in May, as the Messenger reported. Pyke said that the ‘Halloween Justice for Eli’ event won’t be the last demonstration either.
“I won’t quit until I’m satisfied,” Pyke said.
At the same time, Pyke acknowledged that no amount of justice will ever feel like enough because, “it’s never going to bring my son back.”
Pyke said the loss of her son remains profoundly difficult for her and her family.
“We miss his laughter. We miss hearing the pounding of something coming out of his room because he’s cussing somebody out on Fortnite,” Pyke said. “My four-year-old walks through the house, and if she sees a rock, that’s her bubba. If she sees something with a heart on it, that’s her bubba’s heart… I don’t want to say my house is quiet, but it is… We are so broken that we can never be fixed.”