TROY — After dramatic testimony, a Miami County judge found probable cause that Donald R. Pepper beat James R. Wolf to death with a roofing stapler April 13 at their West Milton home.
Police testified during a preliminary hearing Thursday that they found bloodied clothes and the roof stapler in an attic in the residence at 1177 Debron Road. They also found a life insurance policy on Wolf — naming Pepper as beneficiary — under Pepper’s mattress. A West Milton police officer said that Pepper confessed to the crime, hoped to get the death penalty and that Pepper said things “got out of control” because of his gambling habit.
Miami Court Municipal Judge Mel Kemmer ruled that the case go to a grand jury after hearing testimony from West Milton Police Chief Garry Kimpel, two police officers, Miami County Coroner Dr. Bruce Nordquist and a man who lives in a barn next to the residence.
Pepper, 53, was charged with aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, and with tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony. Wolf, 65, was declared dead at the scene. Pepper is being held in Miami County Jail on a bond of $350,000, but prosecutors are trying to increase that amount.
Police were dispatched to the scene at 10:04 a.m. April 13 after Pepper called 911 and said Wolf may have fallen off a riding lawn mower.
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While being questioned by West Milton Prosecutor Grant Kerber, Kimpel testified that it appeared Wolf, who was lying next to a lawn mower, had been repeatedly beaten in the back of the head with a blunt object.
Klimpel said there was a five-inch diameter hole in Wolf’s skull and blood spatter several feet in multiple directions. Nordquist testified that Wolf died of multiple blunt force trauma.
Kimpel said the Ohio Bureau of Investigations was called to process the scene. After the BCI agents left, an officer checked an attic accessible from a utility closet near the master bedroom and bathroom. The officer testified that he spotted what he called a bed sheet that appeared to be covered in blood. Later, police said the sheet contained bloodied items including a roofing stapler, shoes, socks, jacket, gloves, shirt and sweatpants.
Under cross-examination from defense attorney Christopher Bucio, Kimpel said “a lot of things in this case I found odd.”
A couple involved in a civil case with Pepper were talking near the residence’s driveway and Pepper’s attorney in that case was capturing photos or video of Wolf’s body while medics were at the scene.
Bucio asked if Kimpel’s theory was that Pepper got up that day, made brownies for those parties coming over to talk about the civil lawsuit and then savagely beat and killed Wolf for life insurance money. Kimpel said, “Absolutely.”
After Pepper was arrested, he was admitted to an area hospital. An officer testified that twice Pepper indicated during hospital interviews that he was responsible. The officer said Pepper would give him a confession if he could get three guarantees. Those included that Pepper get a death penalty recommendation, that the man living in the barn not be charged and that Pepper could speak to his other attorney.
Bucio asked the officer if he knew what medications Pepper was taking during the interviews and the officer did not know.
The officer testified Pepper said things got “out of control” and that he had a “gambling habit.” The officer also testified that Pepper said he used a roofing stapler to hit Wolf while wearing gloves because it would be “messy.”
The lone witness Bucio called was the man living in the barn. That man — who took a lie detector test administered by law enforcement — said he had been with Pepper at a casino boat the night before Wolf’s death and they picked up Wolf after he was done with work.
The man testified he didn’t hear anything unusual the morning of Wolf’s death and that he was wearing headphones.
Contact this reporter at (937) 225-6951 or mgokavi @DaytonDailyNews.com.