Judge sends teen’s murder charge to grand jury

FRONT ROYAL – The case of a teenager accused of stabbing and killing his girlfriend in town in March goes to a grand jury next month.

Judge Kim Athey found probable cause at the end of a preliminary hearing in Warren County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court on Thursday to send the defendant’s charge of second-degree murder to the grand jury that meets June 5. Authorities charged the defendant, who turned 18 earlier this month, with second-degree murder for the March 25 stabbing death of Leah Marie Adams. The incident occurred in the 100 block of Kerfoot Avenue though police apprehended the suspect at a residence on nearby South Shenandoah Avenue.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton prosecuted the case. Winchester attorneys David Hensley and William “Beau” Bassler represented the defendant. The defense attorneys did not call any witnesses. Neither side presented arguments during the hearing.

Witnesses for the prosecution included law enforcement officers who responded and investigated the case as well as residents and passersby who said they saw at least part of what happened. Several people who live on Kerfoot Avenue, including off-duty police officers for the Front Royal Police Department, testified that they came out of their homes when they heard Adams scream for help. Some of the witnesses testified that they came to Adams’ aid while they waited for emergency responders to arrive at the scene.

Melissa and Charles Hutchings, who said they parked at the Soccerplex just minutes before the incident, testified separately they saw a dark-colored car drive toward them without its headlights on then stop near their vehicle. Both witnesses testified they saw a woman step out of the front passenger side door of the vehicle, come around the rear, open the driver’s side door and tried to get inside. The husband testified that he saw the dark-colored car start traveling down the street with the woman’s feet hanging out of the driver’s side door.

Moments later the husband said he saw the woman in the road trying to get up. The husband said he heard her say “help me, help me, God help me.” The husband and wife eventually made it to the woman as did other residents in the block and tried to render aid to the victim who continued to bleed while they waited for an ambulance.

Meanwhile, other witnesses provided testimony as to the defendant’s whereabouts and actions after the victim ended up in the road. Several witnesses testified that they heard the defendant say multiple times “kill me” before ultimately being apprehended by police. Authorities say the defendant was discovered at a residence after receiving reports of an attempted break-in. Witnesses testified they heard glass breaking. At some point the defendant was seen with blood near his neck.

An investigator who interviewed the defendant hours after the incident described the suspect as “remorseless” or “emotionless” when told the victim had died. The defendant asked several times if the victim had really died, the investigator testified. The defendant revealed in the interview that he had taken LSD prior to the incident, the investigator said.

Several officers testified that they responded to the call on Kerfoot Avenue reported initially as a pedestrian struck by a vehicle. Officers testified that they saw blood at the scene where they found the victim along with a woman’s flip-flop or sandal. The victim’s injuries did not appear to coincide with those usually seen on someone struck by a vehicle, one officer said.

None of the witnesses testified that they could see who was driving the car. But officers testified that they discovered a folding knife in the center console of the car. Investigators also discovered blood on knife, the turn-signal knob and the gear-shift assembly inside the vehicle. Authorities sent out the knife, samples of the blood collected from the vehicle and blood from defendant for testing at a state forensic lab.

Layton said after the 3½-hour hearing that the defendant was tried as an adult because the charge is murder. However, the defendant, 17 years old at the time authorities say he committed the crime, will be considered an adult if and when he is convicted of the offense, Layton explained.

The defendant has since been transferred from the Northwestern Regional Juvenile Detention Center to the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail north of Front Royal.

An earlier version of this story should have stated that Warren County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton said the defendant was tried as an adult because he is charged with murder.