MORRISTOWN — Almost exactly a year after disabled military veteran Roger Hawkins was beaten and stabbed to death in his Rogersville apartment, one of the assailants has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Austin Scott Price, 19, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder Friday in Hamblen County Criminal Court in connection with the March 16, 2013 murder of 52-year-old Hawkins.
Price admitted to police that he and co-defendant Samuel “Wade” Hirsch, 23, wanted money to buy drugs when they attacked Hawkins.
Hirsch's trial date is in February of 2015.
Last month the attorney general’s office formally filed notice to seek the death penalty against Price and Hirsch.
Price accepted a murder plea for life in prison without the possibility of parole Friday to avoid the death penalty.
Assistant Attorney General Alex Pearson said Hawkins’ family attended the plea hearing in Morristown, but didn’t make a victim impact statement.
“They were satisfied with the plea agreement and did not feel they needed to make a victim impact statement,” Pearson said. “The defendant accepted a plea to life without parole, and he will die in prison. We don’t have to go through a jury trial, which of course would be costly and time consuming, as well as an emotional burden on the victim’s family members.”
There is no indication at this time whether Hirsch intends on going through with a trial. When the state files notice to seek the death penalty, the defendant is entitled to a second court-appointed attorney.
“If he wants to accept the same offer, we would consider it, but they haven’t indicated an intention one way or another,” Pearson said. “At this time we are preparing for a murder trial next February, and our intent to seek the death penalty still stands.”
Hawkins was a disabled 21-year military veteran who had completed tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He resided at the Boyd Street Apartments in Rogersville at the time of his death.
Price and Hirsch were living in the apartment above him with Price’s uncle.
Rogersville police were called to Hawkins' apartment in the early afternoon of March 16, 2013 after he was found deceased in his apartment by a friend who came to check on him when he didn’t answer his phone.
Police followed a blood trail outside Hawkins’ apartment to an upstairs apartment. A child in the upstairs apartment told police that Price and Hirsch had left from there earlier.
As investigators were converging on the apartment complex, 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.
Price had initially given a statement denying any part in the murder and implicating Hirsch, but later allegedly admitted to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that robbing Hawkins was his idea and he had to talk Hirsch into it.
At about 2 a.m. on 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 the TBI 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.
According to the statements, after beating and stabbing Hawkins to death, 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 McDonald's 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.”
Hirsch remains held in the Hawkins County Jail on $1 million bond.