Austin Scott Price, left, and Samuel 'Wade' Hirsch, are shown at Monday's preliminary hearing. Photo by Jeff Bobo.
ROGERSVILLE — Two men accused in the March 16 beating and stabbing death of 52-year-old Roger Hawkins allegedly described for police in grisly detail what they did before, during and after the murder.
Austin Scott Price, 18, and Samuel “Wade” Hirsch, 22, both of Rogersville, appeared before Hawkins County Sessions Judge J. Todd Ross Monday afternoon for a preliminary hearing on one count each of first-degree felony murder.
Hawkins was a disabled 21-year military veteran who had completed tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Three witnesses were called Monday to testify by assistant attorney general Alex Pearson, after which Ross ordered the murder charge for each defendant bound over to the Hawkins County Grand Jury.
Ross also ordered both men held on the same $1 million bond.
Rogersville Police Department Assistant Chief James Hammonds testified that he was dispatched to the Boyd Street Apartments the afternoon of March 16 on a possible unattended death.
Hammonds testified that upon his arrival he found a female crying over the body of the victim, identified as Hawkins. The female, a friend of Hawkins, had decided to check on him after he didn’t answer his phone.
Hammonds testified that he followed a blood trail outside Hawkins’ apartment, and to an upstairs apartment. A child in the upstairs apartment told Hammonds that Price and Hirsch had left from there earlier.
As investigators were converging on the scene, Price arrived back at the apartment complex riding in the back of a pickup after the vehicle he and Hirsch were using broke down on Route 66.
Hirsch was later taken into custody at the stranded vehicle.
From the witness stand, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Scottie Ferguson read aloud a statement given by Price.
Price had initially given a statement denying any part in the murder and implicating Hirsch, but later allegedly admitted to Ferguson that robbing Hawkins was his idea and he had to talk Hirsch into it.
At about 2 a.m. the morning of March 16, Price and Hirsch were playing video games at the apartment of Price’s uncle — where both defendants were staying — directly above Hawkins’ apartment.
In the statement, Price told Ferguson he had a serious pill addiction and had overdosed three days earlier. Price stated he’d heard that Hawkins had guns and if they could get those guns they could get money for pills.
Ferguson read from Price’s statement, “Finally I got him to agree to go. Wade (Hirsch) was going to cover the peephole and I was going to bum-rush the man. ... The man answered the door and I pushed him in. He latched on to my arm and I started hitting him in the face. He started asking ‘Why?’ We fell on the couch and the man started reaching under the couch cushions. Wade jumped on his back and started choking him. I flipped the cushions and there was three guns there. Wade was yelling my name out. We had bandanas on our faces and our hoods up. Wade started yelling that he knew who we were and we had to ‘off’ him. There was a knife in front of the TV it was a collector type knife. I threw it to Wade. Wade stabbed him like three times in the throat and chest. The guy started crawling toward the phone. I picked up the knife and started stabbing him.”
According to the statements, Price and Hirsch allegedly stole three handguns, a shotgun, and Hawkins’ wallet, which contained $400 cash. Afterward, Hirsch borrowed clothes from Price.
They went to McDonalds and ate, went to an abandoned car wash and hid the handguns, and then went to Walmart and bought a new pair of shoes each.
They also threw out some bloody clothes and shoes in garbage cans at various businesses and hid the shotgun in bushes near the apartments.
Price also admitted that they went to Bulls Gap to buy an Opana pill for $40 from someone named “Scooby.”
They also gave Price’s uncle $80, apparently for room and board, and were on their way to Greeneville to buy drugs when the vehicle broke down.
“I wanted money to get pills,” Price said in his statement to police. “I did not plan on killing the man. Things got crazy and out of hand. Things went further than I wanted.”
Teddy Collingsworth, an investigator with the Third Judicial District Attorney General’s Office, read Hirsch’s statement in court.
Many of the details from Hirsch’s statement from before and after the attack matched Price’s statement. But, in his statement, Hirsch attributed the beating and stabbing to Price.
Hirsch stated that when they initially entered Hawkins’ apartment Price was hitting Hawkins with a hammer that belonged to his uncle. Hirsch also stated that Hawkins pulled the bandana off of Price’s face during the struggle and Hirsch “choked him until he became calm.”
“Roger had tried to get a gun under the cushion of the chair before I choked him,” Hirsch said in the police statement. “Roger had pulled Austin’s cloth off his face. Austin said Roger knew too much, and then Austin picked up the knife and started stabbing Roger over and over. Austin had blood all over him. ... Roger kept telling Austin he wouldn’t say anything. I tried to get Austin to call 911, but Austin went to sleep after he killed Roger.”
Police stated shortly after the murder that Hawkins’ medication was also stolen by Price and Hirsch, but that information wasn’t presented during Monday’s preliminary hearing.