CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Mercer County woman who witnessed the fatal shooting of her friend last month said the slaying was no accident -- despite what her cousin, the alleged shooter, told police.
Judith Helen Kowaleski has been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Elizabeth Slagle. Both women were 42 years old and lived in Bluefield.
Police say that on March 28, the two women sent threatening text messages to each other about a fight their daughters had on a school bus earlier that day. The women agreed to meet that evening, where Kowaleski shot Slagle once in the chest with a handgun, according to a criminal complaint filed in Mercer County Magistrate Court.
Kowaleski told police the gun accidentally fired when Slagle charged at her with a Taser.
But Jennifer Graham, who is Kowaleski's cousin and had been Slagle's friend for about five years, said she saw Kowaleski walk away, then turn and fire the gun at Slagle.
"Judy had enough time to turn around and shoot her," Graham said last week. "It was no accident."
Mercer County Prosecutor Scott Ash said Kowaleski's case was bound over to a grand jury last week. Ash said it's up to the jury to decide if Slagle's slaying was accidental.
State Police Trooper J.C. Teubert testified during Kowaleski's preliminary hearing that the slaying was premeditated because she intended to use the gun and had it in her hand the whole time.
Graham said Kowaleski and Slagle had been good friends for about a decade because their daughters are best friends at school. But the fatal altercation began when Kowaleski called and texted Slagle about their daughters' fight.
According to Graham, Kowaleski's daughter had kicked Slagle's daughter in the shin on the school bus that afternoon.
When Slagle found out what happened, Graham said, she made Kowaleski's daughter stand still so her daughter could kick her in return.
That evening, Kowaleski began arguing with Slagle over the phone about what had happened.
"Liz told me everything word-for-word what was said," Graham said.