Knife admissible in murder trial

ELKINS – Senior Status Judge Thomas Keadle ruled Wednesday a knife – the alleged murder weapon – is admissible as evidence in the case of a Dailey man accused of killing a classmate at Tygarts Valley High School.

Thomas Chevy Vas, 18, was indicted on Feb. 25, 2013, on one felony count of murder. His classmate, Dustin “Dusty” White, was fatally stabbed outside the TVHS stadium on Oct. 26, 2012.

Vas’ attorneys, James Hawkins and Timothy Prentice, made a motion in Randolph County Circuit Court to suppress the knife as evidence during the trial, saying the weapon was found because of comments Vas made before he was read his Miranda rights.

Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Parker called three law enforcement officers to the stand Wednesday – Sr. Trooper C.S. Johnston and Sgt. J.B. Simmons, both of the West Virginia State Police, and Randolph County Sheriff Mark Brady.

All three officers testified they – along with other officers – searched the cemetery near TVHS to locate the knife. The officers searched unsuccessfully for the knife the night of the incident, and located it the next day.

Hawkins said the knife should be suppressed because it was located based on a statement Vas made to investigating officer Trooper J.B. Tindal, of the West Virginia State Police, before being Mirandized. Last week Keadle ruled a recording of the statement made by Vas to Tindal was not admissible as evidence.

“It is clear from the testimony of these witnesses here today that before that testimony they would not have been led directly to where it was,” Hawkins said.

Parker argued the knife should not be suppressed because several TVHS football coaches located Vas near the cemetery and he told one of the coaches he threw the knife under a bush.

Keadle ruled the knife was admissible as evidence because the statement made to the coach about the knife was not forced or coerced.

“Here we have a case where there was an alleged crime committed on school property, at the Tygart Valley High School, and, obviously we all know that a young man was stabbed several times and died as a result of those stab wounds,” Keadle said. “A young trooper was called to that scene and when he arrived, he spoke to the defendant and he asked him ‘where’s the knife?’ and he told him where the knife was.

“Now, as far as any statement he made at that time, it could not be admissible because he didn’t Mirandize him and I understand that and I so ruled. My recollection is that one of those school teachers, and I don’t remember which one it was, did testify that he asked where the knife was and the defendant told him where the knife was,” Keadle added.

“My ruling is that the knife is admissible as evidence into this case,” he said.

The defense also made a motion to suppress a text message conversation between Vas and another person that allegedly took place the day of the incident.

The text conversation began with Vas allegedly sending a message to the other person saying, “S– ’bout to go down at the game.”

“You and Dustin?” the other person replied.

Vas allegedly responded, “Yeah, he’s gonna get cut.”

“Make sure I’m there. Lol,” replied the other person

Vas allegedly responded, “All this ends tonight.”

“Yeah, I feel you dude, just be sure I’m there. I got your back,” the other person texted.

Prentice argued the text conversation should be suppressed.

“Our problem with the text message is, obviously, we find the content very prejudicial and confusing and misleading to the jury since it has no context, is not a complete message, it’s a fragment of a message…,” Prentice said.

“Judge, I agree with Mr. Prentice that it’s very prejudicial in showing premeditation…” Parker said.

“Just for the record, I didn’t say that,” Prentice responded.

“I’ll add that, then,” Parker said. “I think its very prejudicial but very relevant to the state in showing premeditation.”

Keadle ruled the text message was admissible.

“I think it is relevant. The question is, is it admissible, and I believe it is if you lay the proper foundation by a witness establishing a date and approximate time before the alleged offense occurred,” Keadle said. “If you can do that appropriately then it’s admissible.”

The defense also made a motion to suppress a video of a fight between Vas and another individual that occurred before the night of the shooting. Parker said he believes the fight may have led to the altercation between Vas and White.

Hawkins said he believed the video was prejudicial and not necessary to the case.

Keadle ruled it would be admissible to present evidence about the fight via testimony, but the video will not be shown during the trial.

Jury selection for the Vas case will take place at 9 a.m. Monday. The trial will begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday.