PULASKI — A witness on Monday recounted how he tried to impose a no-guns rule when two Pulaski County teens fought over a young woman — but one combatant brought a knife.
That and other details of the Feb. 23 fatal stabbing of 19-year-old Chandler Spencer Dowell, allegedly by his friend Brent Ethan Harrell, emerged during a preliminary hearing in Pulaski County General District Court. Judge Fred King sent a second-degree murder charge against Harrell on to a grand jury, which will decide if the case should be tried in the county’s circuit court.
Harrell is the son of Valerie Harrell Alderman, the administrative assistant for the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office’s investigations unit. Her connections to the county’s court system prompted Pulaski County’s regular General District Court judges, and the county’s commonwealth’s attorney, to recuse themselves. Radford Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Rehak is acting as special prosecutor in the case.
At the preliminary hearing, witnesses recalled the final hours of Dowell’s life, saying a Facebook post and a storm of messages spurred a feud that had simmered for months , and led to the two brawling in a cold, driving rain.
Harrell, now 20, listened from the defense table as Emily Rosen testified that she had dated him, broken up with him, and later dated Dowell. Harrell was upset by this and for at least two months sent angry text messages to Dowell, Rosen said.
Gareth Drake Sebastian Mills, a friend of those involved, testified that matters escalated on Feb. 22. Dowell had posted something on Facebook about fake friends and Harrell responded, Mills said.
Soon, Harrell and Dowell were texting back and forth, insulting and threatening one another, Mills and Rosen said.
Mills said that he was with Harrell at the mobile home where Harrell lived with his grandparents when Rosen sent a message that she and Dowell were coming over.
It was around then, according to Mills, that Harrell started searching for a pistol and Mills tried to talk him out of using it. Harrell said he wanted to shoot up Rosen and Dowell’s car, and Mills said he shouldn’t do it, Mills testified.
Mills and Rosen said that Harrell and Dowell had agreed to fight. Earlier, Harrell had texted Dowell that he was going to kill him, and that Dowell should “bring your daddy’s gun,” Mills said.
With Dowell on the way, Harrell could not find his own firearm, Mills said. Harrell did find a four-inch folding knife and said he was going to stab Dowell, Mills said.
Another witness said he heard the same threat.
Kenneth Rosen, Emily Rosen’s brother, said that he was at his mother’s house, where Emily Rosen lived, when his sister and Dowell left — and that Dowell had a pistol.
Not long afterward, Kenneth Rosen testified, Mills called him and told him about the impending fight. Kenneth Rosen said that he could hear Harrell in the background of the call, and that Harrell said Dowell better knock him out with the first punch or Harrell was going to stab him.
Kenneth Rosen said he called his sister and warned her and Dowell about the knife.
Emily Rosen testified that she told Dowell his gun “better not come out of the car.”
Mills said he also was urging Rosen by text to turn around. Mills said he tried to set some ground rules. “I’m the one that said, ‘No guns,’” Mills recalled, adding that by this point in the night, he thought Harrell had put his knife away.
It was well after midnight when Rosen and Dowell arrived at Harrell’s. A cold rain was pouring down, Mills remembered. Harrell went out on the porch and said to turn the headlights back on so they could see to fight, Mills and Rosen said.
Then Harrell went into the yard, about eight feet from the car, and drew a line with his foot, Mills said. In the car, Dowell took off his shirt, then got out and ran at Harrell, Mills and Rosen said.
Soon the teens were trading blows and stumbling down a slope, Mills said. Dowell stood over Harrell and continued to hit him, Mills said.
Virginia State Police Special Agent James Graham testified that in an interview later that morning, Harrell said that in the final part of the fight, Dowell told him he’d kill him and that Harrell responded by drawing his knife and stabbing. It was too dark to see where the knife cut, Harrell told Graham.
Mills said that he saw blood running down Dowell’s neck as he and Harrell stood up together.
“I say, ‘Chandler, you’re bleeding,’ and he said, ‘I don’t give a f--- ,’ ” Mills testified.
Then Dowell collapsed and Harrell, yelling for someone to call for help, tried to stop the blood flow with a cloth, Mills said. Harrell was telling Dowell, “hang in there,” Mills testified.
Graham said an autopsy found that Dowell died from a single stab wound. Graham said he found a 9mm pistol in the passenger door pocket of Rosen’s car.
The gun was dry, Graham said.
Harrell’s attorney, Jimmy Turk of Radford, closely questioned most of the witnesses but put on no defense evidence Monday.