Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Death divides families: jury trial continues in best friend’s stabbing

By Meg Hibbert

SALEM – The photographs of Kit Hale and Sue Longworth were only six pages apart in the 1973 Patrick Henry High School annual.

This week the parents of Samuel Lucas Hale and Joshua Louis McCoy are divided by crushing grief. Kit Hale and his family and Sue Longworth McCoy, husband Scott, and their daughters and son are on opposite sides of the aisle in the Salem Circuit Courtroom where 25-year-old Sam Hale is being tried for the first-degree murder of his best friend.

Their lives unraveled in the early morning hours of Jan. 16 when Hale is charged with fatally stabbing his roommate with a kitchen knife in their third-floor residence in Glenmary Apartments in Salem.

Samuel Hale confers with his attorneys Tony Anderson and Melissa Friedman Monday during his jury trial in Salem Circuit Court on the first-degree murder charge of fatally stabbing his roommate, Josh McCoy. Salem Sheriff's Deputy Chris Shelor is behind them. Photo by Meg Hibbert

Samuel Hale confers with his attorneys Tony Anderson and Melissa Friedman Monday during his jury trial in Salem Circuit Court on the first-degree murder charge of fatally stabbing his roommate, Josh McCoy. Salem Sheriff's Deputy Chris Shelor is behind them. Photo by Meg Hibbert

The jury trial is scheduled to last five days and will conclude after press time for this week’s Salem Times-Register.

Family members and Hale himself sobbed quietly in court Tuesday as they watched the portion of the police interview videotape time-stamped 5:28 a.m. That’s when he collapsed in the Salem Police Department interview room floor, crying uncontrollably, after a detective told him he was being held on suspicion of murder because his friend was dead.

That was almost three hours after Hale called 911 asking for help for his roommate whom, he initially told the dispatcher and police, had been cut in the neck by a piece of glass when he fell into a window.

Hale, who pleaded not guilty Monday before Judge R.P. “Pat” Doherty Jr., and his attorney, Tony Anderson, contend the stabbing was a horrible accident. Salem Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Matt Pollard argues McCoy’s death was first-degree murder.

The difference is intent. The act of leaving the bathroom where the two men fought and going into the kitchen where Hale picked up a steak knife with a 5-inch-blade shows intent under the law, Pollard told the jury.

What really happened in that apartment shortly after 3 a.m. on Jan. 16 only the two friends knew for sure. There were no other witnesses.

Pollard put on a day-and-a-half of detailed evidence trying to convince the eight women and five men on the jury it was murder. If convicted of that, Hale could be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years to life in prison.

There’s a problem of credibility. Hale lied to the 911 dispatcher and to police, initially saying McCoy got cut by glass from the kitchen window.

But forensic facts don’t match Hale’s story. On Tuesday during his explanation of more than 39 pieces of evidence gathered at the scene, Salem Forensics Officer Lt. Tim Carroll showed the window was more than 25 feet from the closest blood spatter in the hallway. There was no blood found on the 5-inch-long piece of glass found in a bathroom trash can, Carroll said.

Over the more than three hours of videotaped interviews with Salem Police Detective Sgt. Mike Crawley and Detective I.T. Van Patten – which the jury watched throughout much of Tuesday – Hale changed his story two more times. He said he used a knife to get the glass out of McCoy’s neck, then finally admitted to Van Patten there was no glass in the wound, and instead, it was the knife he was holding that severed McCoy’s windpipe.

At first it was believed that McCoy’s jugular vein had been cut, but an assistant medical examiner testified Wednesday afternoon after press time that there were not any injuries to major veins in McCoy’s neck.

Salem Rescue Squad emergency medical technician Albert Scalera, the first one to reach McCoy, told the court on Monday the stricken man was breathing only eight times a minute, “well below the ability to sustain life.” McCoy was lying in the doorway of the apartment, on the deck where there was a large pool of blood, police said.

Police and EMTs had difficulty locating the right apartment, testimony showed, because Hale is heard on 911 tapes telling the dispatcher they were across from CVS Pharmacy. Police responded in minutes, checking apartment areas across Chestnut from the drug store, at apartments behind it, and next door.

It was not until a couple of minutes into a second call when Dispatcher Monica Ferris called Hale back after he hung up that he gave the location as Glenmary Apartments, which is on Lewis Avenue to the north across Main Street from CVS.

Ferris told Hale to use his hand to press on McCoy’s neck wound, then to yell out so police officers could locate the two.

McCoy had been drinking heavily, Hale told police, and was insistent about wanting to drive to the Brambleton area to confront his sister’s ex-boyfriend who had taken advantage of her. Hale admitted he had four drinks and a beer, but hadn’t drunk as much as McCoy.

Shortly after 10 a.m. Hale’s blood alcohol content was .06, testimony showed. That is just under what is considered the limit of what is driving under the influence. Autopsy results showed McCoy had a blood alcohol content of .23, Pollard said.

At the apartment McCoy became irate, Hale said, and pushed him down in the bathroom. Hale told police he picked up a long piece of glass he wrapped in toilet tissue to get his roommate to let him out of the bathroom. He did not explain why he exchanged the glass for a knife.

Jury selection Monday took more than three hours. 30 out of 60 prospective jurors were interviewed. They were interviewed in groups of 10. Juror prospects were kept separated in other courtrooms and in a section of the hallway so they would not hear questions attorneys and the judge asked of those who went before them.

Thirteen jurors were selected instead of 12, in case a juror becomes ill or has a serious family emergency, the judge explained. The 13th juror will not know if he or she is the alternate until the jury goes to the jury room to deliberate at the end of the trial, the judge emphasized.

In court this week, Hale was noticeably thinner than when he was arrested and jailed without bond. Instead of the bright orange Roanoke County-Salem Jail jumpsuit he wears in his booking photograph, in court on Monday Hale wore a navy blazer, gray pants, light blue dress shirt and patterned navy tie. On Tuesday it was a pale yellow shirt and tie with red and narrow yellow stripes.

Like their parents, the two young men went to school together. They started off in elementary school, then middle school, high school and Radford University. McCoy left college after a year to take up the family business, Roanoke Glass, said Hale, who went to work there, too, after graduating.

After 10 years without a murder, Salem had two within one year, followed by McCoy’s stabbing two months after the last murder trial.

There were some similarities between this week’s case and the November 2009 trial. In both instances the victims and those accused had been drinking at Awful Arthur’s, in downtown Roanoke in

Hale and McCoy’s case, and in Salem in the earlier case that ended with a manslaughter verdict.

The victim at the Salem Awful Arthur’s, Zane Blankenship, 23, was run down and died in the parking lot in October 2008.

A judge ruled Jeep driver Shawn Scott did not intend to kill the victim, and found him guilty of the lesser offense of involuntary manslaughter, hit and run and other offenses, and sentenced him to serve seven years in prison.

For the trial’s outcome after the Hale case goes to the jury later this week, read the Nov. 4 issue of the Salem Times-Register.

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