ELKINS – Officials announced Friday the alleged murder weapon in a 2012 stabbing at Tygarts Valley High School has been lost.
Thomas Chevy Vas, 18, of Dailey, is accused of fatally stabbing a classmate, 17-year-old Dustin “Dusty” White, at a Tygarts Valley High School football game on Oct. 26, 2012. He was indicted on Feb. 25, 2013, on one felony count of murder.
At a hastily arranged hearing Friday afternoon, Vas’ trial – which was scheduled to begin Tuesday – was continued until December after the announcement was made that officials could not locate the knife allegedly used in the stabbing, or the blood-stained clothing worn by Vas and White that night.
Defense attorneys Timothy Prentice and James Hawkins made the motion to continue, saying they had just been informed Thursday afternoon about the missing evidence.
“A rather amazing thing happened yesterday…,” Prentice said. “What happened yesterday is I was informed that the knife could not be found after diligent searching by the West Virginia State Police…”
Senior Status Judge Thomas Keadle asked, “Was it in their possession?”
“Yes sir, I believe it was in their possession, in their evidence locker and we have never had custody of that or even seen that. I believe yesterday was the same day that (Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney) Mr. (Michael) Parker found out that the knife no longer was in custody of the West Virginia State Police and for all practical purposes, does not exist at this time,” Prentice said.
“As the court knows, we’ve located issues surrounding that knife for a couple days, at various times. It’s an integral part of, I believe, the state’s case and also ours. The fact that the knife doesn’t exist, can’t be examined by us, raises all sorts of problems,” he added.
Keadle said, “If the knife was never found, I’m talking about never found, then there wouldn’t be any reason we couldn’t go on with the trial.”
“I think there could still be a trial without the knife, sir, I think that’s true. Our problem is we’re on the eve of trial, this has just occurred… It is our belief that any evidence regarding the knife should be excluded at this point. There is no object to prove the state police ever had it except they say so. They certainly can’t produce it…
“It would be prejudicial to ask us to prepare for jury selection and trial on Monday and Tuesday, respectively, in light of this new information,” Prentice said. “And it’s not just the knife, your honor. My understanding is that the clothes of Mr. Vas and perhaps clothes of the deceased are also missing…”
Prentice said he had never experienced a similar situation in his entire law career.
“I have never had this occur where what the state reports to be the murder weapon is lost after being in custody of the West Virginia State Police, in their evidence locker,” Prentice said. “I have never had that happen in 20 years, your honor, not to mention the fact that apparently the clothes that were referenced may be lost in the crime lab. So, there are apparently two different facilities run by the state, where they can’t keep track of evidence.
“I am sorry to put it that way but that is exactly what appears to have happened and I will say, for the record, I don’t think Mr. Parker had anything to do with this. These were other state agencies, not Mr. Parker,” Prentice said.
Keadle asked where the knife was being kept when it came up missing.
Prentice answered, “So far as I know, and Mr. Parker probably knows better than I do, my understanding was it was being kept in the evidence locker at the Elkins Detachment (of the West Virginia State Police).”
Keadle asked Prentice where the clothing worn by Vas and White on the night of the event was being kept when it became missing.
“I believe that was sent to Charleston to the crime lab and I don’t think it’s been seen since,” Prentice said.
Parker told Keadle he would try to shed some light on what he understood to have happened to the evidence.
“I obtained the lab results back from the WVSP yesterday as it related to a fingerprint analysis on the knife, as well as some initial DNA analysis for some of the items of evidence,” Parker said. “My initial request, based upon my recollection and also questioning individuals in my office, was that the knife not be sent off for analysis or testing based on all the facts and circumstances of the case.”
Parker said the submission forms, which he provided in court Friday, showed he did not sign off on the evidence being sent to the lab.
Keadle asked Parker who provided the case submission forms.
“The investigating officer (Trooper J.B. Tindal of the State Police),” Parker said. “So, I didn’t anticipate any testing was being conducted… I was unaware that these tests were even conducted, much less that reports existed that I had not disclosed.
“When the issue came about with the knife being not where it was supposed to be, conversations were had about the knife and then also about these reports. I indicated to them they need to fax them to me immediately… As soon as I got those, I faxed those to Mr. Prentice and Mr. Hawkins…
“It is my understanding, at this point in time, that the knife is not in West Virginia State Police custody to the best of their knowledge,” Parker said. “It is my information and belief that they searched the entire barracks and searched anywhere they can think of to try to locate this knife…”
Parker said he did not object to the trial being continued.
“Although the state is ready to proceed to trial, regardless of whether we have the knife or not, I feel the state has sufficient evidence to proceed… I know certainly if I was in Mr. Prentice’s and Mr. Hawkins’ shoes, I would want additional opportunity to investigate and explore these issues…”
Keadle set a Dec. 1 date for jury selection, with the trial set for the rest of the week.
No state police officials spoke during Friday’s hearing. White’s parents were present at the hearing.
Following the motion hearing, Hawkins said the defense next plans to motion for acquittal.
“This is definitely a peculiar development at this point.. One of the motions you can anticipate is filing a motion to dismiss based on the loss of the evidence,” Hawkins said. “Somebody, obviously, has dropped the ball here and we intend to find out what happened.”
In an e-mail to The Inter-Mountain late Friday afternoon, Parker said he was surprised to receive the information about the missing evidence and could not object to the motion based on the circumstances surrounding the situation.
“When I received the information regarding the evidence in this case, obviously I was very surprised,” Parker wrote. “I am upset that this case could not proceed to trial as scheduled, but I could not object to the continuance in light of these circumstances.
“I am currently looking into all of the facts surrounding this situation, but have full faith that the West Virginia State Police will determine what happened and take reasonable measures to ensure that this does not happen again,” Parker wrote.