A Charles Town, WV man charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Jeffrey B. Evans is headed to trial.
Clarke County District Court Judge Amy Tisinger on Wednesday found that there was enough evidence to support the charges of murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony against Dale Lee Wright. The case now moves to Circuit Court for trial next year.
The shooting occurred in March 17, in a gravel parking lot off Rt. 7 just west of the Clarke/Loudoun border. It was there, Commonwealth’s Attorney Anne Williams said, that Wright had agreed to meet with Evans, his former boss and a Bluemont resident, to arrange an introduction between Evans and someone who was selling an antique trailer. Evans, 72, was the owner of Lenah Auto Service in Aldie, where Wright at one time apparently worked. Testimony yesterday revealed that the two men had been friends since the 1980s.
Williams called four witnesses to establish probable cause for the case to move forward. Deputy Jeremy Seabright, then employed by the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office, was the first to respond to the scene. Seabright said he was responding to a report of a single-vehicle crash near the intersection of Rt. 7 and Castlemans Lane. There, he saw a white Ford Super Duty pickup truck that had crashed into an embankment off the right shoulder of the road. Members of the public who witnessed the crash had already pulled Evans from the car and were attempting lifesaving measures, with fire/rescue personnel arriving around the time as Seabright. Seabright said Evans was bleeding heavily from the head and nose and when his shirt was opened to attempt chest compressions a puncture wound, later determined to be a gunshot wound, was revealed. He died at the scene.
Seabright’s search of Evans’ vehicle found a 38-caliber revolver on the driver seat with all cartridges accounted for. The firearm did not appear to have been fired, he said. Seabright also found a bank bag with a large amount of cash in the center console, and boxes of .223 ammunition elsewhere in the car.
Upon questioning by defense attorney Bo Bassler, who along with David Hensley is representing Wright, Seabright acknowleged that he handled the evidence he collected from Evans’ car with bare hands.
Special agent Jeff Rose with the Virginia State Police is the lead investigator on the case. He said he responded to the crime scene about an hour after it had occurred. He found Evans’ cell phone in the truck and obtained a search warrant for the phone to see who Evans has communicated prior to his death. He said later in the day he made a death notification to Evans’ daughter, Sarah, and said the two scrolled through her Facebook profile to see which mutual friends she and her late father had in common. Wright was one of them. Rose said a search of Evans’ phone revealed that he had been communicating with Wright prior to his death.
Eyewitness interviews also revealed a description of a man who was seen running across Rt. 7 up to Evans’ truck after he crashed. Wright matched that description. There also was a description of a vehicle seen leaving the scene after the crash of a small, silver pickup truck.
The next day, Rose said a man called State Police to say he had been driving through the intersection near the time of the incident and had a dashcam running. The dashcam video picked up a shot of the suspect vehicle, which was later traced to a vehicle owned by Wright’s daughter. That car was later found at an address belonging to Wright, Rose said.
Employees at Evans’ auto shop told investigators in the days following the incident that Wright had been in the shop at least twice in the preceding two weeks to talk to Evans about buying used car parts. It was something the two were excited about, they said. Evans told his employees two days prior to his death that he was planning to go look at an antique trailer Wright’s friend was selling that weekend.
Virginia State Police Special Agent Eric Deal was one of two investigators to conduct an interview with Wright at his sister’s home just outside of Charles Town, WV. He said he interviewed Wright on March 19, two days after the shooting, in his sister’s kitchen, while his sister and brother-in-law were nearby in their living room. Deal said Wright changed his story several times during the interview, first denying being in the area altogether, then admitting to being in the area but not stopping, then finally admitting to meeting Evans in the parking lot. Deal said Wright told investigators the two had a confrontation and that Evans was angry, but Wright did not know why. Wright then admitted to shooting Evans, but claimed it was in self-defense, Deal testified.
Wright initially claimed he grabbed a gun from Evans’ vehicle after Evans first shot at him. But when Deal confronted him with evidence that showed Evans’ gun had not been fired, Wright acknowledged the he also had a gun himself, but still claimed he acted in self-defense. Wright said he threw the weapon in the Shenandoah River. Acting on a search warrant later that night, investigators found the 32-caliber revolver he described in a toolbox in the bed of his truck.
Hensley asked Deal whether Wright had been read his Miranda rights prior to the interview, and Deal said he had not. Deal said during the interview Wright’s sister questioned whether her brother should have an attorney present, but Wright did not ask for one. He was placed under arrest later that evening.
Deal said investigators believe there was a financial motive behind the shooting. Also found in his truck were court documents that showed Wright was $40,000 behind in child support payments, and had a court date on that arrangement scheduled for that week.
A Clarke County Circuit Court grand jury is expected to hand up indictments in the case on Jan. 13.
Wright has been incarcerated since his arrest in March.