By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A Mercer County woman, who was arrested and charged with first-degree murder after a heated exchange of text messages led to a fatal shooting, pleaded guilty Tuesday to voluntary manslaughter.
The trial of Judith Helen Kowaleski-Slagle, 43, of Bluefield was scheduled to begin Tuesday before Circuit Court Judge William Sadler. This became a plea hearing after Sadler was informed late Monday that an agreement had been reached.
Kowaleski-Slagle was arrested March 28, 2013 after the death of Elizabeth Slagle, 42, of Bluefield. Slagle was shot once in the chest.
When Sadler asked what the state would have presented if the case had gone to trial, Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler described how the incident started when the children of the two women got into a “minor fight” aboard a school bus. The two mothers began an exchange of text messages that became increasingly heated during the day. This argument continued until the women and Kowaleski-Slagle’s aunt, Barbara Harrington, met at the intersection of Falls Mills and Nichols Roads near Brushfork, Sitler said.
A witness at the scene stated that Slagle said she was going to her car to get a gun, Sitler said. She later approached Kowaleski-Slagle with a taser and tried to touch her with it. Kowaleski-Slagle fired a .38 caliber revolver, hitting Slagle in the chest.
A search warrant was later obtained and the revolver was found at Kowaleski-Slagle’s home; the weapon, designed to hold five rounds, had one discharged bullet.
Before considering the plea agreement, Sadler explained to Kowaleski-Slagle how she would be giving up her right to trial by jury, the right to testify on her behalf, call witnesses on her behalf and appeal a guilty verdict to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. By entering into the agreement, she was pleading guilty.
“Are you guilty or not guilty?” Sadler asked.
“Yes,” Kowaleski-Slagle said, her voice breaking.
The plea agreement includes dismissing the first-degree murder charge, not opposing alternate sentencing, and not filing any additional charges, Sitler said.
Kowaleski-Slagle faces a determinate term of three to 15 years in prison. She is currently on home confinement. Sentencing was scheduled for March 10.
Attorney Ryan Flanigan asked that Kowaleski-Slagle be allowed two days a week to visit her terminally ill father, and time to begin counseling at Southern Highlands Community Mental Health Center in Princeton. Sitler said the state had no objections, and Sadler granted the motions.
After the hearing Sitler said that Elizabeth Slagle was the former sister-in-law of George Slagle, who was Kowaleski-Slagle’s boyfriend when the shooting occurred. They have married since that time.