Trial Set for Custodian Charged In Shooting Outside Del. School

DOVER, Del.- A former school custodian from Dover on Tuesday testified in his own murder trial that he had no choice but to open fire on another man in the parking lot of his workplace last year because he feared for his own life and safety. 

Rodney West, who used to work as a custodian at Towne Point Elementary School in Dover, told jurors he thought Derrick Combs, the man whom he fatally shot on Aug. 28, 2018, had been reaching for a possible firearm when Combs confronted him as he finished his shift about 10 p.m.

The former custodian testified Combs, who was upset about text messages between West and Combs' wife, had harassed or threatened him with text messages or phone calls and stalked him on numerous occasions over the course of several months.

"I didn't want to kill Derrick," he said.

West was charged last year with first-degree murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony in connection to Combs' death, though defense attorney Joe Hurley has argued West defended himself when he opened fire on Combs.

Prior to the shooting, West said he had faced months of harassment and stalking by Combs but acknowledged a brief two-week span when the messages stopped after the two spoke at his house.

In one instance, Combs displayed and pointed a gun at the former custodian, West said.

"I was definitely in fear," he said.

West said he did not approach police about the matter until Aug. 27, the day before the shooting, because he had just wanted the situation to go away. He also testified about not telling his wife about the dispute between himself and Combs because he did not want her to find out about the messages.

West denied Tuesday that there was any relationship between himself and Combs' wife, Lesley Combs, but acknowledged that she had said "flirtatious" or "sexual" text messages to him. He said at one point he apologized to Derrick Combs for not having taken steps to stop the messages.

A surveillance video recording played earlier the trial showed the fatal confrontation, including the moment when Combs' white pickup truck pulled in front of West's car as the custodian attempted to leave Towne Point following his shift.

West said Derrick Combs pulled in front of him with his headlights off and testified he believed he was at the very least partially blocked in and felt Combs' was armed. He mentioned previous occasions encounters in which he said there was a visible a bulge underneath Combs' clothing that he believed was definitely a firearm in a holster.

West testified he brought a gun with him to work on the day of the shooting because of escalating harassment.

West also testified Combs had confronted him multiple times while armed, though he only once saw a firearm during those encounters. The former custodian said he was fearful for months of approaching police because he feared retaliation and his own wife finding out about the text messages but ultimately did speak with Dover police the day prior to the shooting.

Closing arguments in the case are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in Superior Court.

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