ELKINS – Several motions were made to suppress evidence in the case of a Dailey man accused of fatally stabbing a classmate at Tygarts Valley High School.
Thomas Chevy Vas, 18, was indicted Feb. 25 on one felony count of murder. His classmate, Dustin “Dusty” White, was fatally stabbed outside the TVHS stadium on Oct. 26, 2012.
Vas sat silently during the pre-trial motion hearing Friday as his attorneys, James Hawkins and Timothy Prentice, made motions to suppress photos from the crime scene, the hospital and the autopsy – displaying the victim and his fatal wounds – from being used in the upcoming trial.
Hawkins said he believed the pictures would be extremely prejudicial to a jury because they depict wounds, gore and blood.
“Our position is that these photographs are highly prejudicial and any appropriate value that they would have are outweighed by the prejudicial effect,” Hawkins said.
Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Parker objected, saying the photos should be allowed because they would assist in showing the cause of death.
“For the state to be able to effectively present its evidence and meet its burden and fully institute those specific intent portions of the defense, I think it is relevant and I think it also will tie into the presentation from the state’s expert witness, the medical examiner’s office,” Parker said.
Senior Status Judge Thomas Keadle, along with Parker, Hawkins and Prentice, spent roughly an hour going through photos from the hospital and the autopsy and of Vas with blood on his clothing following the incident.
During the discussion the parties arrived at approximately 36 photos they decided would be admissible.
They agreed to suppress others that were deemed to display blood and gore that could be prejudicial to the jury, and agreed the rest featured duplicate material.
Hawkins then made a motion to suppress evidence of flight which he claimed the state intended to use.
Hawkins said Vas did not attempt to flee from the police.
“It is our position, first of all, that there was no flight. The defendant did not actually leave the alleged scene of the crime. He may have had some movement about it but never actually fled in the traditional sense of fleeing the scene of the crime,” Hawkins said.
Parker said the reason the state believed flight was involved was because Vas left the initial scene of the crime and went to a nearby cemetery and attempted to hide the alleged murder weapon.
“(Vas) went to the graveyard area and threw away the knife and at that point turned around and was getting ready to run elsewhere and ran into some of the football coaches, who then began conversation with him and took him to the field house at Tygarts Valley High School,” Parker said.
Parker said the state’s evidence of flight be admissible because Vas was trying to hide the weapon, showing he had a guilty conscience.
Keadle decided he would not rule on the matter until evidence became available to him that Vas did, in fact, go to the cemetery and try to hide the knife.
“At this time, my thinking is that I will make that decision after the evidence is in,” Keadle said.
Prentice then presented photos he took on Oct. 29, three days after the incident, that show injuries to the head of Vas. He asked that the photos be included in evidence.
Parker did not object but noted the photos were taken three days after the alleged altercation, and said there was no way of knowing what may have happened between the altercation and the photos being taken that might have caused the injuries.
Keadle agreed that four of the 16 total images would be admissible and allowed to be used.
The defense counsel also made a motion to suppress statements made by Vas to the coaching staff members who located him after the incident, claiming the comments may not have been voluntary. The attorneys said the conversation could be considered custodial interrogation.
Parker called to the stand Joseph Arbogast, head varsity football coach at TVHS at the time, along with Chris Hamrick and Scott Felton, who were both assistant football coaches at the time.
All three of the individuals were questioned by Parker and cross-examined by Hawkins about the events following the stabbing.
All three men said they were on the field during pre-game warmup exercises when Randolph County Board of Education member Harvey Taylor came from the stands telling them there had been a stabbing and Vas was believed to be the perpetrator.
The three men also said they located Vas coming back toward them from the direction of the cemetery, and said they questioned him as to what had taken place between him and the victim. They testified Vas told them the two had gotten into a fight before admitting later that he had stabbed the victim.
The three men said they took Vas to the field house and Hamrick went outside to wait for police to arrive.
During testimony, Felton said Vas “really broke down, he started crying, you know, ‘what have I done, my life is over,’ and Joseph (Arbogast) just laid down on the floor and cried with him.”
Keadle ruled the questioning was admissible because it was done to try to help ensure the public safety of everyone at attendance at the game.
“Here are these people who work at the football game, at this school gathering, and the word’s running around the crowd, from some people there, is there has been a stabbing,” Keadle said. “They are expected to investigate, to find out who got stabbed, do they need help, are they laying around somewhere behind a building suffering and bleeding… You’ve got to get them to a doctor, that’s their duty… They were trying to find out what was going on so the other children could be protected.”
The final defense motion during the hearing was to suppress evidence of a recording by the investigating officer, Trooper J.B. Tindal of the West Virginia State Police, who talked to Vas upon arriving at the scene.
Tindal testified Vas voluntarily told him he had blacked out and didn’t remember a thing. Tindal then began an audio recording and told Vas he didn’t have to talk to him and had a right to get an attorney.
On the recording, which was played in court Friday, Tindal questions Vas about the location of the knife and takes him to the cemetery to try to locate the weapon.
During cross-examination, Hawkins argued that Tindal had not properly read Vas his Miranda rights.
Keadle ruled the questioning on the recording was not admissible as evidence because the defendant hadn’t been properly Mirandized and the questions were asked after he was taken into custody.
Three more motions – one to suppress crime scene photos, another to suppress a text message conversation Vas had with a fellow student prior to the incident, and a third to suppress 404 (b) evidence – were also made but will be ruled on at a second pre-trial motion hearing slated for Wednesday.
Jury selection in the case will be Aug. 18 and the trial for Vas will begin Aug. 19.