Jury deliberations begin in West trial

DOVER — A Kent County jury this morning will begin determining the fate of a 54-year-old man accused of murder after a shooting at Towne Point Elementary School last year.

While Rodney West was charged with first-degree murder following a deadly confrontation on Aug. 28, 2018, actions by the late Derrick Combs, 39, were much discussed during the Superior Court trial that began last week.

Mr. Combs was shot four times while in the empty school’s parking lot and pronounced dead at the scene. He had arrived in a vehicle as Mr. West was leaving his custodian’s shift just before 10 p.m.

The men were at odds for months since the discovery of sexually tinged texting between Mr. West and Mr. Combs’ wife, who worked at the school.
Mr. West testified to increasingly threatening harassment from Mr. Combs, including a firearm pointed at him during a traffic stop. School employees testified that he expressed his concerns, but Mr. West did not contact police until the day before the shooting.

The prosecution maintained that Mr. West shot an unarmed man to death, including two shots into Mr. Combs’ abdomen as he lay on the pavement. A firearm was found in the deceased man’s vehicle and Mr. West said he believed Mr. Combs either had something in his hand or had seen him reaching for something as he approached.

Also, according to prosecutors, Mr. West at times described his own vehicle as blocked in, partially blocked in and cut off from exiting. Video showed the vehicle driving straight ahead when leaving, according to Deputy Attorneys General Gregory R. Babowal and Sean M. Motoyoshi.

Prosecutors maintained that Mr. Combs might have arrived for a fistfight, noting that he was wearing gloves and placed his glasses on his vehicle’s hood before approaching Mr. West.

Mr. Babowal said that while the defense tried to label Mr. Combs as a “monster” and motorcycle gang member, he was in fact a son, brother, husband and father who enjoyed family vacations and was a middle-aged member of a motorcycle club that met on weekends and supported charities.

Defense attorney Joseph A. Hurley said Mr. West had only four seconds to make the decision of a lifetime as Mr. Combs approached, while the prosecution considered the incident a 16-second process as the vehicles faced each other.

Harkening back to trial testimony of co-workers, Mr. Hurley said Mr. West was described as confused, anxious, fearful, guarded and that the supposed harassment was “always on my mind.”

Also, the defense said Mr. West had becoming increasingly fearful for his wife and children’s safety due to the supposedly ongoing situation.
Supposedly, Mr. Combs made regular vehicle passes by Towne Point ES and was a regular presence in Mr. West’s life through phone and text messages, according to the defense. Three of Mr. West’s tires were slashed the day after a meeting with Mr. Combs and his wife.

Mr. West brought a firearm and two clips with him to work the night of the shooting.

Following the shooting, Mr. West fled to his brother’s home in Silver Spring, Maryland, before apprehension by U.S. Marshals. The prosecution noted that he had other options such as turning himself in immediately or the next day, and Mr. West said he was uncomfortable going to police in the immediate aftermath of a gun-related matter.

Mr. West’s firearm was found hidden at his brother’s home, prosecutors said, The flight from the scene brought the possibility of destroying evidence, according to police testimony.

Both men’s family-oriented backgrounds were disclosed at trial and both sides were well represented in a crowd of 40 packed into the courtroom to watch Wednesday’s proceedings.

The defendant is also charged with possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. The jury could also consider second-degree murder, manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide counts instead of the indicted murder charge.
Judge Noel Eason Primos is overseeing the trial.

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