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Man accused of killing Capital HS student appears for pre-trial hearing in Kanawha County

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Kanawha County Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit went through several pre-trial motions Tuesday ahead of a trial of a man accused of killing a Capital High School student last year.

Dekotis Thomas, 20, appeared virtually for a pre-trial hearing before being set to go on trial Aug. 15. Thomas is charged with first-degree murder in the April 2021 shooting death of Kelvin “K.J.” Taylor, 18, on Central Avenue on Charleston’s West Side.

Dekotis Thomas

Among the motions was Tabit denying a motion from Thomas’ attorney Joey Spano to exclude flight evidence. Thomas was arrested on July 8, 2021 following a two-hour stand-off in Akron, Ohio. Thomas was indicted in May of 2021 for the shooting of Taylor.

“It took quite some time for the state to say there was flight and he went. They provided no evidence of when he went to Akron, Ohio or why he went to Akron, Ohio. I don’t think the state can prove a defendant’s guilty conscience or knowledge whatsoever,” Spano said.

Debra Rusnak, Kanawha County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney responded to the motion by saying the evidence is probative that Thomas attempted to avoid apprehension.

“It will be the state’s evidence that the defendant fled virtually immediately after the murder of K.J. Taylor. To that regard, it will also be the state’s evidence that we went through extensive means trying to apprehend him right after that happened,” she said.

Tabit agreed with Rusnak and said, “I believe circumstantially, based upon what I have reviewed, that Mr. Thomas was aware of charges at the time he fled, was aware he was a suspect at the time he fled, and circumstantially, the facts seem to indicate he was desiring to escape.”

Adam Petry, Kanawha County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney and the court agreed to a motion of severance for this trial to exclude information in regards to other charges that Thomas faces. In addition to charges surrounding Taylor’s death, Thomas has also been indicted for the 2019 murder of Antwan Curnell in Charleston.

Tabit said jury selection in the trial will start at 2 p.m. on Aug. 12 with anticipation of opening statements on Aug. 15. The judge further said she wanted additional information on a jury list by Noon on Aug. 8.

Spano said that based on the jury questionnaires sent out, they’ll need a large pool of jurors for selection.

“We’ve had full discovery and everyone has known the court’s intention to move forward with this case since its inception. Certainly at its most recent hearing. We’re going to move forward,” Tabit said.

Taylor’s family held photos of him up to their computer screens during Tuesday’s hearing. Taylor was a senior football player and was shot in the chest and died a month before he was set to graduate.

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