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Hale takes stand in own defense before murder case goes to jury

SALEM – Samuel Hale took the witness stand in his own defense this morning, explaining to the jury how he accidentally fatally stabbed his best friend with a steak knife after a night of drinking at two downtown Roanoke bars.

Hale, who turned 25 in jail, is accused of first-degree murder of his roommate, Joshua McCoy, also 25, in the early morning hours of Jan. 16 in the Glenmary Apartments where they lived off Main Street in Salem. When he called 911 at 3:37 a.m., Hale initially told the dispatcher his friend had been stabbed, then said he had been cut with a piece of glass from a broken window.

On the stand today, Hale admitted that was a lie.

The defense completed its case this afternoon, the fourth day of the trial, and Salem Circuit Court Judge R.P. “Pat” Doherty Jr. instructed the jury before sending them to the jury room.

The 17 instructions defined terms and explained the choices they have: to find Hale not guilty or guilty of either first-degree murder, second-degree – without intent – voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter, which is basically accidental.

A few minutes after 5 p.m., jurors informed the judge they wanted to come back in the morning to begin deliberations.

On the witness stand, Hale calmly told the jury McCoy had become upset while they were drinking and socializing with friends at Awful Arthur’s restaurant and bar in Roanoke, after he found out his sister’s ex-boyfriend had knocked her unconscious and taken advantage of her.

Hale testified McCoy became enraged as Hale was driving them back to Salem because he wanted to go after the former boyfriend who lived in the Brambleton Avenue area. Hale wouldn’t drive him there nor give him the keys, he said, because he didn’t want McCoy to get into trouble.

Inside their apartment McCoy became more insistent and pushed him down, Hale said, refusing to let him out of his bathroom, so he armed himself with a piece of glass from a broken bathroom window, “because I thought I would have to deal with Josh.”

McCoy calmed down some, Hale testified, and the two went into the kitchen to get a drink. He said his roommate became enraged again, and Hale picked up a steak knife from the knife block on the counter. McCoy fell against him, knocking both of them to the floor, and then got up and walked out of the kitchen toward the front door.

Hale followed and that’s when he saw the knife sticking out of McCoy’s neck, He said. He testified he pulled the knife out, and McCoy slumped down on the deck at the outside door. A pale McCoy told him to call 911, Hale said, which he did.

The state medical examiner who did McCoy’s autopsy testified yesterday that a sharp object, consistent with a knife, had sliced into McCoy’s neck on the left side, gone through the trachea and cut the top part of his right lung.

The medical examiner said with a knife through his trachea, a victim probably would not have been able to walk 25 feet and would not have been able to speak.

In the taped 911 call and a second call the dispatcher made back to Hale after he apparently hung up the first time, the jury, McCoy and Hale’s family members and the other 25 people in the courtroom could hear McCoy’s ragged last breaths. He was pronounced dead at Roanoke Memorial Hospital shortly after 4 a.m.

Hale was interviewed at the Salem Police Department, but not told his friend was dead until more than an hour later, and that he was being held on suspicion of murder. He later confessed to a detective that his first story about McCoy falling into a window and getting cut was a lie.

Hale has been held without bond since Jan. 16 in the Roanoke County-Salem Jail. If found guilty of first-degree murder, Hale could face a maximum of 20 years to life in prison.

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