School custodian rejects plea deal in fatal shooting

DOVER — Exuding a staunch belief in his self-defense argument, a 54-year-old Dover man rejected a manslaughter plea offer in connection with an after-hours shooting death at Towne Point Elementary School last year.

Rodney West will thus face a first-degree murder charge and possible life in prison in a Superior Court trial scheduled to begin with jury selection on Oct. 28.

In a back-and-forth exchange with Judge Noel Eason Primos Wednesday morning, Mr. West stood at a podium and acknowledged multiple times that he understood the plea offer and its ramifications and concluded with “I reject it and am ready for trial.”

Moments earlier, defense attorney Joseph A. Hurley said that due to his client “defending himself and (being in) fear for his life he has no interest in accepting this plea.”

The entire session lasted about seven minutes.
Mr. West was leaving his custodial work shift at the school around 10 p.m. on Aug. 28, 2018 when confronted by Dover area resident Derrick Combs, 28, Dover Police said at the time. Mr. Combs was shot multiple times before Mr. West fled the scene at 629 Buckson Drive, authorities said.

Following a 911 call, responding officers arrived at Towne Point ES to find that Mr. Combs had died from wounds. No other persons were believed to be in the vicinity at the time and no threat to the school itself existed, authorities said. The school closed for a day in what officials described as an abundance of caution.

On Sept. 4, 2018 Mr. West was taken into custody without incident by the U.S. Marshal’s in Montgomery County, Maryland. He was then extradited to Delaware and held by the Department of Correction. An indictment followed on Dec. 19, 2018.

According to police, Mr. Combs and Mr. West knew of each other before the alleged incident. Mr. Hurley said his client “panicked” when leaving the scene and was prepared to turn himself in voluntarily before being apprehended.

Mr. Hurley earlier explained that Mr. West carried a firearm because he feared for his safety after allegedly being threatened and harassed for the past several weeks. The attorney said text messages from phones would support his claims.

Police said a firearm was recovered in the case.

Deputy General Sean Motoyoshi – prosecuting the case with DAG Gregory R. Babowal – told Judge Primos that the plea offer was made several months ago and discussed with Delaware Department of Justice officials “at the highest level.”
The offer was in effect until the end of Wednesday, Mr. Motoyoshi said, and would be withdrawn if not taken by then.

“Today will be the final day for the plea to be accepted,” Mr. Motoyoshi said.

The state said it would drop a possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony count if manslaughter was accepted. The firearm felony carries a minimum mandatory sentence of two years and could reach 25 years.

The prosecution did not indicate how much prison time it would seek for a manslaughter admission.
Mr. Hurley, Mr. Babowal and Mr. Motoyoshi declined further comment following the hearing.

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