Originally charged with first-degree murder, Chad James Hall pled guilty in Carroll County Circuit Court on Nov. 17 to second-degree murder in the shooting death of Edwards around March 6, 2009 at Stewart’s Creek near Lambsburg. Hall also entered a guilty plea to use of a firearm in commission of a felony.
According to Commonwealth’s Attorney Gregory G. Goad, a pre-sentence report is to be prepared and a sentencing hearing will be held Jan. 26, 2011 in Carroll Circuit Court. Hall faces up to 40 years in prison on the second-degree murder charge and a mandatory sentence of three years on the gun charge.
Edwards was last seen on March 6, 2009 and reported missing by his family two days later. A pair of citizens found his body on April 16, 2009 in Stewart’s Creek, below the old Ruritan Building off Chestnut Grove Road.
During the missing persons investigation, Sheriff’s Deputy Chuck Edwards, a cousin of the victim, interviewed Hall concerning the last time he saw Edwards, and a search of cellphone records was conducted, which revealed that calls had been received by Justin Edwards’ phone, but no calls had been made.
Hall was arrested by the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office less than 24 hours after the positive identification of Edwards’ body. Chuck Edwards helped identify him, recognizing Justin Edwards’ “JWE” tattoo, which was on his forearm.
Sheriff Warren Manning said last year deputies believe the murder weapon was a shotgun, adding that the department has recovered a shotgun and shotgun shells. Manning said the murder was drug related and began with a fishing trip between Justin Edwards and Hall, who Manning said were friends.
“It was just the two of them down there and they were fishing that day. We found out it was drug related,” Manning said at the time. “Something went wrong and it escalated and that is why we found him six weeks later. They were friends.”
During the preliminary hearing held late last year, Goad called three witnesses, Chuck Edwards and Sheriff’s Investigators Shannon Goad and Venton Smith.
Chuck Edwards testified to the positive identification, noting a white cap belonging to Justin Edwards was located near the scene of the crime. Chuck Edwards testified that in Hall’s eventual confession to authorities, Edwards was wearing a white cap, and that he had destroyed Edwards’ phone after he shot him.
During Shannon Goad’s testimony, two photographs from the crime scene were introduced as evidence — one of Edwards’ arm with the “JWE” tattoo, and the other was of the body at the scene. Goad testified that Edwards was wearing blue jeans, a fact that was collaborated during Hall’s confession.
When he was called to the stand, Smith testified he reviewed Chuck Edwards’ filed missing person report and talked to Hall, asking him if he would like to come to the Sheriff’s Department for questioning. After the body was found, Hall agreed to go to the State Police Headquarters in Wytheville for an interview at around 11 p.m. on April 16, 2009, where he executed a Miranda waiver form. Smith said when Hall returned to the Sheriff’s Office, his account of the events changed. While he did not confess, Smith said Hall made several inconsistent statements.
After Hall’s arrest and transport to the New River Valley Regional Jail, Smith said Hall demanded to be returned to Hillsville, and that he wanted to talk to investigators. He was transported back to the Sheriff’s Office. At 7:56 p.m. on April 17, 2009, Hall executed a second Miranda waiver and issued a written statement to Investigators Smith, Goad and Fred Bobbitt, in which he confessed to the crime. A copy of the confession was then admitted into evidence.
Hall remains incarcerated at New River Valley Regional Jail without bond. He is being represented by court-appointed attorney Jonathan Venzie. Judge Brett Geisler will preside over the sentencing.