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HILLSVILLE — Thirty minutes and three witnesses was all it took for a Carroll judge to certify first-degree murder charges against a Cana man to the grand jury.
Chad James Hall made his first appearance in Carroll County District Court on Friday morning. He is charged in the shooting death of his friend, Justin Wade Edwards, 21, of Cana.
Hall was arrested less than one day after a citizen found Edwards' body in Lambsburg on April 16.
Carroll County Commonwealth's Attorney Greg Goad opened his questioning by calling Carroll Deputy Chuck Edwards to the stand.
Edwards was the victim's first-cousin and originally got involved in the case when Justin was first reported missing.
Edwards said that Justin was reported missing March 8, and was last seen March 6.
After contacting several people who knew Justin, Deputy Edwards said he eventually spoke with Hall, who said he had dropped Justin off earlier that day.
Once the decomposed body was found on April 16, Edwards was brought in to help identify it.
Edwards said he identified the body by a set of initials — JWE — on the victim's left forearm.
Edwards added that a white ball cap was also found near the scene, which was described by family members in the missing person's report as what Justin always wore.
The second witness, Carroll Investigator Shannon Goad, was responsible for processing the scene and submitted two pictures for evidence. The first was a picture of the forearm with the initials, while the second was of the body.
The final witness called to the stand was Carroll Investigator Vinton Smith, who described the scene where the body had been found as a wide open field.
After looking at previous interviews in the missing person's file, Smith said investigators decided to interview Hall for any further information he could provide.
Smith said it was just before 11 p.m. on the night the body was found when investigators first spoke with Hall.
"He was very cooperative," Smith said of Hall.
The interview took place at the sheriff's department, before being moved to the Virginia State Police headquarters in Wytheville.
Smith said that Hall maintained his story that he dropped Justin Edwards off earlier that day. Eventually, Smith said Hall's "ever-changing" story provided enough probable cause for investigators to issue a warrant.
Hall was then arrested, processed and sent to the New River Valley Regional Jail in Dublin.
The next day, Hall asked to speak with Carroll investigators again and was brought back to the sheriff's department.
"He said he had something he wanted to tell us," Smith told the court on Friday.
It was roughly 8 p.m. on April 17 when investigators once again sat down with Hall, who provided them with a written statement.
Smith read the written statement in court on Friday, which noted that Hall and Justin Edwards had went fishing on the day of the murder.
Hall said that he and Edwards ended up in an argument on the fishing trip.
Investigators asked what led to the argument between the two friends, and Hall said he asked Edwards if he had been lying to him, if he was "the law" and if Edwards had told "dangerous" people where Hall's family lived.
Hall's statement said he suspected Justin had a pistol. Hall said he went to get his shotgun from his vehicle, and when he returned, Edwards raised his shirt to show his gun.
"I thought he was going for his gun," Hall's statement said.
When Justin turned around, Hall said he fired one shot.
Hall continued in his statement to say that he shot Edwards with his brother's 12-gauge pump shotgun and that he wasn't "more than 10 yards" away from Edwards when he fired the weapon.
After Edwards fell to the ground, Hall said he couldn't believe what he had done and simply covered the body with brush before leaving.
Early the next morning, Hall said in his statement that he returned with a shovel to bury him.
After dragging the body across a road, Hall said he couldn't bring himself to bury his friend.
When investigators asked why he did not come forward earlier, Hall simply said he was "ashamed... dis-hearted... scared."
Investigators asked Hall if he was sorry for his actions and he said "yes."
"I'm every second sorry for what happened," he said in his statement. "I will always be in debt to the Edwards family for what I've taken away." He concluded by saying that he wished he was the one who died.
Investigators later found the shovel near the scene and recovered the shotgun from Hall's residence.
Defense attorney Jonathan Venzie of Independence had minimal questions for the three witnesses.
Goad finished by asking Smith to explain what Hall may have meant when he explained how the argument started.
Hall admitted he used both alcohol and marijuana, Smith said, and though the two men had been friends for years, Hall became suspicious that Justin was somehow involved with law enforcement and began to question him.
Smith added that the comment about "dangerous people" in Hall's statement could have been a reference to the various drug dealers the two were involved with.
With no further questions, Smith was asked to step down. Goad presented one final piece of evidence, the autopsy report that concluded the cause of death was a shotgun wound.
District Court Judge Edward Turner III then notified Hall that the evidence showed probable cause and that he would send the charges to the next grand jury.
If the grand jury certifies the charges, Hall will appear for trial in Carroll Circuit Court.