Prosecution rests case in elementary school murder trial

DOVER — The prosecution rested Thursday and defense of a 54-year-old Dover man charged following a fatal shooting last year begins next week.

Rodney West is accused of first-degree murder in the death of Derrick Combs, 39, during an after hours confrontation at Towne Point Elementary School on Aug. 28, 2018.

Rodney West

Mr. West had just concluded his custodian work shift when Mr. Combs arrived and four shots were fired, according to testimony.

The men knew of each other, and Mr. West and Mr. Combs’ wife had exchanged sexually charged texts while they worked at the same school, Deputy Attorney General Gregory R. Babowal said as the trial commenced Tuesday.

During three days in court, the state presented evidence it claimed showed Mr. Combs was unarmed and suffered two gunshot wounds consistent with lying on his back. The defendant, Mr. West, fled to Maryland afterward and made statements including “I’m sorry”, “I jetted”, and “I messed up.”

The trial resumes at 9 a.m. Monday.

Mr. Babowal and co-counsel DAG Sean A. Motoyoshi declined comment after Thursday’s proceedings concluded around 12:15 p.m.

Defense attorney Joseph A. Hurley acknowledged that Mr. West plans to testify next week and declined comment other than “Only a fool counts his chickens before they’re hatched and that’s all I have to say.”

Mr. West has pleaded not guilty, claiming self defense. He earlier declined a plea offer to manslaughter and is also charged with possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.

During cross examination Thursday, Mr. Hurley focused on Mr. West’s statements made to Dover Police Detective Dale Boney in the short aftermath of the shooting around 10 p.m. Mr. West had called the Towne Point ES principal, who was at Dover PD with Det. Boney at the time.

According to Det. Boney, who spoke with Mr. West on speakerphone, “I told him he needed to come speak with me about the incident.”

The lead investigator testified that Mr. West said “he needed to clear his head and he said he would turn himself in the next morning.”

Mr. West never appeared and was taken into custody by U.S. Marshals at a relative’s home in Montgomery County, Maryland on Sept. 4, 2018, police said. The defendant was indicted on Dec. 19, 2018 and is being held by the Delaware Department of Correction.

The detective reported that Mr. West said “I messed up” and that “He said he was blocked in.”

Mr. Hurley pressed the detective about Mr. West’s supposed statement “I didn’t know what else to do” and was about to produce transcripts when the session ended. The attorney indicated he would revisit the conversation next week.

Mr. Combs was shot once each in the head and chest and twice in the abdomen, prosecutors said. He was pronounced dead at the scene by arriving Kent County paramedics.

Superior Court Judge Noel Eason Primos is overseeing the matter.

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