By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
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More than two dozen text messages were received before a confrontation left one woman dead and another facing a charge of first-degree murder, according to testimony in Mercer County Magistrate Court.
Judith Kowaleski, 42, of the Brushfork area, appeared Friday for a preliminary hearing before Magistrate James Dent. Kowaleski was arrested and charged with first-degree murder after the March 28 shooting death of Elizabeth Slagle, 42, of Bluefield.
The incident occurred at the intersection of Falls Mills and Nichols roads approximately one mile west of U.S. Route 52. Investigators said at the time of the arrest that a kicking incident between Kowaleski’s and Slagle’s daughters on a school bus led to a heated exchange of text messages that ended with a confrontation.
After hearing testimony from Trooper J.C. Teubert of the West Virginia State Police Detachment in Princeton, Dent ruled there was probable cause. The case will now go before the Mercer County Grand Jury.
Teubert testified when he arrived at the scene March 28, two women were kneeling next to a woman lying on her back. One, Kowaleski, was giving Slagle CPR. She had also tried to use her shirt to stop the bleeding, he said. Slagle had been shot in the chest with a .38 caliber handgun.
A pink hand-held taser — not a model that fires projectiles — was found next to Slagle, Teubert said.
The woman with Kowaleski, her aunt Barbra Harrington, said when being questioned that she had taken the gun, a .38-caliber Rossi revolver, back to Kowaleski’s nearby home after the shooting, Teubert stated. A search warrant was obtained and the weapon was later recovered. The gun had one discharged round; it can hold five bullets.
Teubert said that Kowaleski and Harrington told him that messages leading to the confrontation that evening started with a telephone call from Slagle. A series of text messages followed. While being cross-examined by the defense, Teubert said Slagle had sent Kowaleski 32 text messages between 6 and 9 p.m. that day. Teubert did not know what the messages contained. Cellphones used by both parties are being examined by digital specialists in Huntington.
Harrington took over the text message conversation for a time, Teubert said. One of the last messages from Slagle stated that she would be in the vicinity within 15 minutes. Harrington told Kowaleski there was going to be a fight in which the issue would be “settled once and for all,” the trooper stated. Another message allegedly stated that Slagle had both a taser and a gun. Slagle’s car was searched after the shooting, but no other weapon was found, Teubert said.
Kowaleski and Harrington said during their statements to investigators that Slagle allegedly attacked them with a taser when the three women confronted each other, Teubert said. Kowaleski, who was turned away, felt something touch her shoulder and neck. The gun went off when she tried to brush the taser away.
Defense attorney Ryan Flanigan argued that the shooting was a “tragic, tragic accident,” and didn’t meet the standards of first-degree murder. Assistant Prosecuting Attorney John McGinnis said the fact Kowaleski had brought a gun when she met Slagle indicated premeditation.
“It’s a sad day when things come to this point,” Magistrate Dent said when he made his ruling. “Neither party had to meet.”
McGinnis later said that he was not sure if the case would be ready in time for the June session of the grand jury.
Kowaleski is being held without bond at the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver.