PRINCETON — A circuit court judge described precautions Tuesday against COVID-19 and procedures which will be used when a local man charged with first-degree murder goes on trial in August.
Darrell Wesley Hazelwood, 48, of Princeton was brought before Circuit Court Judge Derek Swope for a status hearing. Hazelwood was arrested after the Aug. 10, 2019 shooting death of Tessa Hill on Murdock Street near Princeton. Hazelwood was charged with first-degree murder, which carries the possibility of life in prison.
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney John McGinnis told Swope that the witnesses would be available for the trial, and attorney Derrick Lefler, who is representing Hazelwood, said the defense’s witnesses would be available as well. Swope set a trial date for mid-August.
Members of Hill’s family attended Tuesday’s hearing. Swope described to them how the jury trial will be conducted in light of the ongoing pandemic.
First, both the large courtrooms used by Swope and Circuit Court Judge William Sadler will be used for jury selection. Twenty-five potential jurors will be screened at a time in Swope’s courtroom while another 25 wait across the hallway in Sadler’s courtroom. This will allow jurors to spread out and maintain social distancing.
Once a jury has been selected, its members will not sit as usual in the courtroom’s jury box, Swope said. They will instead be spread out in the benches where the public normally sits. The last two rows of benches will be reserved for family members of the defendant and the victim, the media and the public. People sitting in these benches will be required to spread out.
There are also plans to arrange Skype or Zoom viewing so family members who cannot be in court will be able to watch the trial, Swope said.
Swope said members of the media could be assigned the jury box so they can cover the trial and take photographs without getting pictures of the jury.
The case started Aug. 10, 2019 when the Mercer County Sheriffs Department was dispatched to Murdock Street near Princeton. When the deputies arrived at the scene, they found a woman, later identified as Tessa Hill, lying in the road with an apparent gunshot wound to her head, according to a report filed by Detective Sgt. Steven A. Sommers with the sheriff’s department. She was later pronounced dead at the scene.
Deputies interviewed witnesses who said that Hazelwood was the person who had shot her and that he had fled the scene, Sommers stated in his criminal complaint. The deputies searched the area along with the Princeton Police Department and the West Virginia State Police Princeton detachment. Hazelwood was later found and taken into custody.
“I conducted a scene investigation and during this time I located a wallet near the victim’s body that contained an identification card belonging to Darrell Hazelwood,” Sommers stated. “I also located one .380-shell casings and one live round that was identified as a Hornady Critical Defense .380.”
One witness, who said he was Hill’s boyfriend, told investigators that they had been staying with Hazelwood. This witness later said that he had picked up Hazelwood and was driving him home when Hazelwood said that Hill “had disrespected him and that he needed to ‘slap’ her around,” Sommers said in his report. Hill later told her boyfriend that Hazelwood had accused her of stealing money. They went to the home of Hill’s parents on Murdock Street where Hill was shot during an altercation with Hazelwood.
Hazelwood is currently being held at the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver in lieu of a $250,000 cash or surety bond.
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