SALEM – After hearing four days of testimony and evidence, a jury deliberated for three hours before finding Samuel Hale guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the fatal stabbing of his roommate in January.
Hale had been charged with first-degree murder in the killing of roommate and best friend Josh McCoy, 25, in the apartment they shared in Salem. Involuntary manslaughter is the least severe of four verdicts the jury could have come up with, except for not guilty.
Hale’s legal defense from the start had been McCoy was accidentally stabbed. Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Matt Pollard argued Hale intended to harm McCoy, which is one of the differences between first-degree murder, second-degree, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.
The jury of seven women and five men also recommended Hale be sentenced to three years in prison. Salem Circuit Court Judge R. P. “Pat” Doherty Jr. granted a request for a pre-sentencing report, and set a date of Jan. 6 to sentence Hale.
If he had been convicted of first-degree murder, Hale, who turned 25 while in jail awaiting trial, could have been sentenced to a maximum of 20 years to life in prison.
There wasn’t a sound in the courtroom when the judge read the jury’s recommendation at 3 p.m. on Friday. Doherty had cautioned the families of Hale and McCoy and others in the courtroom not to make any outbursts while the jury and he were still in the room
Hale and McCoy’s parents, who had known each other in high school at Patrick Henry High School in Roanoke, and other family members left the courthouse separately under the watchful gaze of Salem Sheriff’s deputies.
The saga started in the early morning hours of Jan. 16, after McCoy and Hale had been drinking and socializing at two restaurants and bars in downtown Roanoke.
No one except the two knows what exactly happened in their apartment in the Glenmary Apartments off Main Street in Salem, until Hale called Salem 911 at 3:37 a.m. saying his friend had been stabbed by a piece of glass. He hung up, the dispatcher called back, and Hale continued saying McCoy had been cut by glass from a broken window. In the second call, listeners can hear the ragged last breaths of McCoy.
Hale kept up his story that he later admitted was a lie for several hours while Salem Police questioned him how McCoy got injured. He confessed only after learning McCoy had died at the Roanoke Memorial emergency room, and Hale was being held on suspicion of murder.
In part of the three hours of videotapes of Hale in the Salem Police interview room, Hale told Detective Isaak Van Patten he had picked up a steak knife in the kitchen to get McCoy to leave him alone, and when McCoy stumbled and fell against him, he was stabbed in the neck.
According to the Virginia state medical examiner who did McCoy’s autopsy the same day he died, an object consistent with the steak knife found in the apartment pierced McCoy’s trachea from left to right and cut the tip of his right lung.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Pollard, assisted by Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Marshall Harrell, tried the case. Tony Anderson and Melissa Friedman made up Hale’s defense team.
When asked his reaction to the verdict after court, Pollard said, “If that is the verdict that comes down from the jury after hearing the lies and seeing all the physical evidence, then we respect that, because as the citizens of Salem, they are the ultimate decision makers.”
Anderson declined to comment.
Hale was escorted back to the Roanoke County-Salem Jail where he has been held since Jan. 16.