Jesse James Owens was indicted on charges of first-degree murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, possession of a firearm after being convicted of a felony, and possession of ammunition after being convicted of a felony during the Sept. 16 session of the Carroll County Grand Jury. All charges stem from the shooting death of Delphie Wiley on Feb. 8.
A preliminary hearing for Owens, 31, of Woodlawn, was held in Carroll County District Court on Sept. 11.
A key witness in the hearing was Nathan Dowell, who claimed to be with Owens and Wiley on the night of the alleged murder at 90 Boot Jack Drive in Woodlawn. Dowell, a witness for the prosecution, said the three were “drinking and partying,” as well as shooting an automatic Marlin .22 caliber rifle off the front porch of Owens’ trailer.
Later in the evening, Dowell testified that Owens told Wiley “he loved her with all his heart. He said she was his valentine, his snowflake, then put a necklace around her neck.”
Dowell said shortly after that he stepped outside to answer a cell phone call from his son. Commonwealth Attorney Nathan Lyons asked Dowell what happened following his return.
“The rifle was stuck up and she fell. Jesse shot the girl,” said Dowell. “Jesse said everything would be alright. He said he killed a deer.”
Dowell said the shooting so unnerved him that he had to get away from the scene.
“I went to pieces, I had to get out. I went into the woods, got lost, then came out. I saw Jesse loading the girl into his truck,” Dowell said. “He hollered at me. He said he would give me a ride anywhere I wanted to go. He then said ‘I love you, brother.’”
Dowell said he didn’t take the ride and began walking instead. Every time a vehicle came down the road, Dowell said he was afraid it was Owens “coming back to get me.”
Since his cell phone had lost power, Dowell said he didn’t find a place to call the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department until he reached Bronco Road.
On cross-examination by defense attorney Jonathan Venzie, Dowell told virtually the same story, providing no new information.
Lyons then called Seth Adam Greer, an investigator for the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department, to the stand, and asked him to describe the scene when he arrived.
“There appeared to be a significant blood spot in the driveway, and blood and drag marks from the front door to the driveway,” said Greer, who then identified a series of photographs taken at the scene. Once a warrant was obtained to search the residence, Greer entered and found a “significant amount of blood near the gun cabinet.” He also noted that there was blood smeared on a light switch. In addition, there was a live .22 cartridge on the front porch and a spent .22 casing in the residence.
Greer received another call that night, this one from the Hillsville Police Department, which had located Owens and had him in custody. Greer spoke to Owens at about 1 a.m. at the sheriff’s department. After being Mirandized by Greer, Owens admitted at that time he knew Wiley but denied knowing where she was. Later on Feb. 9, the sheriff’s department received another call that a body had been found at Brushy Fork Road and Holly Ridge Road in Cana. The body was later identified as that of Wiley’s.
Lyons asked Greer if he and Detective Donnie Spangler found evidence of injury when they responded to the call. Greer replied that they found a head wound on the body. The Western Virginia Forensics Lab later determined that Wiley died from a “gunshot to the head,” said Greer.
In a second interrogation, Greer, after advising Owens of his Miranda rights, asked him what happened at his trailer on Feb. 8. Greer said Owens’ initial statement was that Owens, Dowell and Wiley “were partying at his trailer, dancing around and the Marlin rifle fell over and shot Wiley.” Owens then told Greer he took Wiley’s body to a Cana area he was “familiar with and unloaded her.”
However, after Greer told Owens the trajectory of the bullet didn’t fit with that account of events, Owens admitted that he shot Wiley in the head.
Owens said although Wiley said she “was in love with him, she had expressed an interest in having a sexual relationship with Mr. Dowell,” according to Greer. “(Owens) said he left the room and when he returned, Mr. Dowell and Ms. Wiley were dancing and rubbing on each other. It made him angry.”
Following further questioning, Greer said that Owens admitted to shooting Wiley, saying “I pulled out a (expletive) gun and shot her.”
During Venzie’s cross-examination of Greer, he asked if Greer entered Owens’ trailer prior to getting a search warrant, to which Greer responded “Yes.” Venzie then asked if Greer “touched anything” in the trailer prior to receiving the warrant. Greer said, “No, I was careful not to touch anything.” After entering Owens’ trailer with a valid warrant, Greer said deputies secured a Marlin .22 automatic rifle as well as other ammunition.
A key piece of evidence, blood, came from Owens’ grey Silverado pickup. According to Spangler, tests revealed that Owens could be eliminated as the person to which the blood belonged, while Wiley could not be eliminated. On cross-examination, Venzie asked if the blood could have come from a third unknown party, to which Spangler replied, “No.”
With the testimony and cross-examination over, District Court Judge Edward M. Turner III said, “I find probable cause for the grand jury to hear this case.”
The grand jury certified the charges against Owens during its Sept. 16 session.