Rodney West: Not guilty of murdering Derrick Combs
DOVER, Del. – The jury announced its verdict in Rodney West’s murder trial on Thursday. West was found not guilty of 1st degree murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. He is also not guilty of the following lesser offenses that the jury was able to consider: 2nd degree murder, manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
“People have suffered and there’s some loss and you know so it’s not all celebration,” says Gary West, Rodney West’s brother.
“It’s unbelievable that injustice has been served today. My brother didn’t deserve to die like this,” says Derrick Combs’ brother.
The jury sifted through all the evidence presented over the course of eight days which was not an easy task, seeing as it took them almost eight hours to reach a unanimous verdict. “It’s hard to describe how we feel at this moment because it’s so surreal,” says Gary West, Rodney West’s brother.
The trial all came down to an alleged flirtatious texting relationship between West and Combs’s wife. It’s that reported relationship that led to the night of August 28th when West shot Combs four times in the parking lot of Towne Point Elementary School.
“Obviously the defendant’s testimony on Tuesday and show of emotion probably persuaded the jury,” says Deputy Attorney General Gregory Babowal. It was that emotional testimony where West says he acted in self defense.
West’s wife knows the shooting was a mistake and that her husband never wanted to hurt anyone. “If you have faith, if you believe in God, if you ask for forgiveness it will happen,” says Teresa Collins, Rodney West’s wife.
Now, Derrick Combs’ family is left hanging on to what they’re remembering as his legacy: kind, gentle, caring and a father.
And West’s relatives say they recognize there are other grieving families involved — that didn’t get any closure. “Nobody wins. And even though we have our brother back and we will be able to help him to get things together from here. You still have to recognize that it was a tragedy. And we wish it wouldn’t have ever happened,” says Gary West, Rodney West’s brother.
At the start of the trial, the 54-year-old was charged with 1st degree murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. The trial stems from a deadly confrontation between West and Derrick Combs on August 28, 2018 at Towne Point Elementary School in Dover.
West admits to sending and receiving flirtatious text messages with Combs’ wife in 2018, they both worked at the school. But Derrick Combs apparently found out and went to West’s home, uninvited, with his wife in order to try and resolve things. However, the tension between West and Combs did not end there.
According to West, Combs sent him threatening text messages and was stalking him. West says he saw Combs’ white pickup truck outside of Towne Point Elementary, while he was working there, several times. West testified about one day where Combs reportedly drove up next to him on a road near the school, rolled his window down and put a gun on the dashboard. West also claims Combs slashed his car’s tires which cost him about $700 to replace.
However, West didn’t report any of this to the police until August 27th when he went to the Dover Police to get a protective order. The 54-year-old says the main reason he didn’t go to the police until then is because he didn’t want his wife to find out about the texts or the problems with Derrick Combs. He says he didn’t want any “trouble”. But he admits he didn’t get the results he wanted from the police on August 27th, so he left.
On August 28th, West brought a handgun with two loaded magazines to school and kept it in his car. He says he loaded it and put it on his passenger seat when he was leaving work around 9:58 p.m. but kept the safety on. That’s when Combs’ white truck appears as West is driving out of the parking lot and the two cars come to a stop.
Security footage from the school shows Combs getting out of his car and walking towards West’s car. Combs is almost at the driver’s side headlight of West’s car when West gets out and shoots Combs four times. West then drives away and does not call 911 or the police. But unknown to West at the time, Combs’ cousin was in the passenger side of the truck and he gets out to check on Combs.
The cousin, the state’s key witness, testified that Combs was choking on his own blood. The cousin says he tried to call 911 but he couldn’t work his phone properly because he was panicking. He is seen on security footage running to the street to try and flag cars down. He is then seen going back to Combs’ body and to the truck before running from the scene. The cousin did not call 911 or the police. The defense used the cousin’s actions as a way to explain why Combs’ phone went missing and was never found by police.
West testified that he saw something dark in Combs’ hand and he later added that he saw him “reach for something”. While a gun wasn’t found on Combs’ body, police did find a gun in his truck after the shooting. The defense claims the cousin could’ve also moved the gun from Combs’ body to the truck but fingerprints belonging to the cousin were not found on the gun.
As for why West got out of his car in the first place, West originally told police he was “blocked in” and couldn’t keep driving. He later changed that to “partially blocked in” and “cut off”. However after West shoots Combs, West easily drives away without having to adjust the path or direction of his car. West was arrested in Montgomery County, Maryland on August 30th.
The defense’s argument was that West acted in self defense because he feared for his life. The state argued Combs went to the school to fight and confront Rodney, not to kill him.
For previous coverage on this trial: click here.
Deputy Attorneys General Gregory Babowal and Sean Motoyoshi prosecuted the case. Attorney Joseph Hurley represented Rodney West. Delaware Superior Court Judge Noel Eason Primos oversaw the proceedings.