SALAMANCA — Investigators testified Friday that they believe two men killed a Salamanca man Sunday after the victim allegedly directed a racial slur at one of the defendants, leading to the deadly altercation.

Jeremiah Desjarlais, 35, and Derrick Marsh, 31, who both pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, a class A-1 felony, in the death of 38-year-old Chad Skoken, sat silent while appearing in Salamanca City Court for their preliminary hearing.

Lt. Tina Owens of the Salamanca Police Department testified Desjarlais came to the police station on Monday morning and told her about Skoken’s death. Police reported Monday evening that Skoken’s body was found in a locked garage at 37 Waite Ave. that morning.

Owens said when she interviewed Desjarlais, he said there had been a fight between himself, Skoken and Marsh, which led to Desjarlais choking Skoken until he fell to the floor. Owens said, while investigating the scene, she noted Skoken’s face appeared bloody and swollen.

Owens said Desjarlais told her he heard Skoken, who is white, call Marsh, who is black, a racial slur in the garage. Desjarlais said he opened the garage door and saw Marsh punching Skoken in the face.

Detective Nathan Root of the Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Office testified he was called in to assist with the investigation Monday, locating Marsh on Waite Avenue and bringing him to the police station for questioning.

Root said Marsh said he and Desjarlais had been drinking at 37 Waite Ave. the night of Jan. 11 and into the morning when the fight broke out.

Marsh told Root that he was coming out of a bathroom in the residence when Skoken called Marsh the racial slur in the hallway and a fight broke out. The investigator said Marsh claimed he began kicking at Skoken to knock a knife out of his hand.

Root testified Marsh said Desjarlais eventually began choking Skoken and told Marsh to leave.

Bryan Milks, Desjarlais’s defense attorney, and Assistant Public Defender Benjamin Smith, representing Marsh, said they don’t believe the case is a felony and their clients were acting in self-defense.

During the arraignment, Assistant District Attorney Preston Marshall asked Judge William Gabler to remand Desjarlais and Marsh to the Cattaraugus County Jail without bail while they await indictment by a grand jury. Gabler agreed and set no bail.

“We got the outcome we wanted — no bail,” said Matthew Hill, Skoken’s cousin, speaking on behalf of the family after the hearing. “We still have to go through the trial, and that’s going to be a process, but today was a step in the right direction.”

Skoken was the son of Salamanca residents, graduating from Salamanca High School and living in the city. He was a father of two daughters.

“His first priority was his kids, just like any good father,” Hill said. “He loved his family.”

Skoken worked in construction, doing “whatever he could,” Hill said, as had worked at the city’s Worth W. Smith store for a time.

“He loved helping us out,” Hill said . “I know he fixed my garage when the door broke. He came over and fixed the spring and the cable. He did that stuff for me, he did it for all of us.”

Hill said Skoken was full of life and loved being outside. He was an avid outdoorsman and Buffalo Bills fan, according to his obituary.

“It never should have happened. Not to him,” Hill added. “He didn’t deserve that.”

Jim Eckstrom is executive editor of the Olean Times Herald and Bradford Publishing Co. His email is

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