By Jessica Farrish
Raleigh County Magistrate Tomi Peck ruled Monday that prosecutors showed probable cause in filing two felony charges against an Eccles man accused of trying to stab to death a Beckley tattoo artist in May, binding it over to the next session of the grand jury.
Michael Dale Wafford, 38, of Eccles, is charged with attempted murder and malicious wounding after he allegedly stabbed James “Ogre” Tate Jr. around five times May 18 in the parking lot of Beckley Plaza Mall.
Tate testified before Peck that he was inside his business, Awesome Ink, at the mall on the evening of May 18 when his assistant alerted him that a man was harassing a woman at Harvey’s, a hair salon and wig villa located in the mall.
Tate said he could hear Wafford cursing a woman whom police identified as Carolyn Trent, Wafford’s ex-girlfriend at the time.
According to Tate, the mall owners were on a cruise and there was no security in the mall on that day. He said the owners had asked him to “keep an eye on the girls at Harvey’s.”
He said a female employee of Harvey’s had positioned herself between Trent and Wafford, who was cursing Trent and trying to make physical contact with her.
Tate said he stepped between Wafford and the employee and asked Wafford to leave.
Wafford stepped outside the building but was still on mall property, cursing Tate, said Tate.
Tate testified that he advanced toward Wafford in an effort to put himself as a wall between Wafford and Harvey’s employees. He added he did not curse or threaten Wafford.
Tate testified that Wafford retreated across the parking lot while cursing Tate, tell-ing him to fight and making threatening gestures at him.
“My thoughts were, this guy is violent, he looked like he was on drugs or out of his mind,” said Tate. “If I walk away, he’s going to come back and hurt someone. As long as I was walking toward him, he was walking away,” he later added.
He said he did not know that Wafford had a knife.
He added he believed police would show up shortly.
Tate said he was about a foot away from Wafford when Wafford advanced and spit on him.
Tate pushed Wafford, and Wafford drew a knife and cut Tate at least five times, according to testimony.
Tate, who was tended to at Harvey’s by a body piercer who was a former combat medic, was later taken via ambulance to Raleigh General Hospital for surgery.
He lost 4.5 to 5 units of blood, he testified.
Tate’s testimony was supported by Beckley Police Department Detective Morgan Bragg’s statements at the hearing.
During questioning by Raleigh assistant prosecutor Pat Lamp, Bragg testified that a juvenile’s cell phone video and mall surveillance showed Wafford stabbing Tate when Tate lost a shoe in the parking lot and showed no aggression on Tate’s part.
Bragg testified Tate left a 60-yard “trail of blood” from his lost shoe in the parking lot to the place where he was loaded into the ambulance.
Wafford left the scene in a vehicle and was apprehended at a DUI checkpoint on Pinewood Drive just moments after the stabbing.
According to Bragg, he produced the pocket knife he’d allegedly used in the stabbing and admitted to police that he had stabbed Tate.
Wafford’s attorney, Kris Kostenko, emphasized that Wafford was leaving the property when Tate advanced toward him.
Under cross-examination, Kostenko asked the 6-foot, 6-inch, 350-pound Tate if he thought his physical appearance could have threatened Wafford, especially if Wafford was inebriated.
Tate replied that Wafford did not appear frightened and continued to curse and threaten him.
“You were bringing it on, is that true?” Kostenko asked.
“Possibly, yeah,” replied Tate, after a lengthy pause.
When Kostenko asked Tate why he didn’t turn and walk away, Tate shot back, “Do you turn your back on a rabid dog that’s in your yard?”
Kostenko asked Peck to dismiss the charges, arguing that Wafford was being pursued by Tate as he retreated from the property.
He said his client acted in self-defense.
Wafford is also charged with two misdemeanors related to the case, domestic violence and destruction of property.
Peck left Wafford’s bond at $25,000 and he remains at Southern Regional Jail.
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