BY MIKE FUHRMAN
A jury began deliberating in Iredell County Superior Court on Thursday afternoon after hearing closing arguments in the murder trial of Blaine “Dale” Hague.
Hague, 73, faces a sentence of life imprisonment if he is convicted of first-degree murder in the September 2020 shooting death of Harmony resident Tommy Cass. The jury also has the option of finding Hague guilty of second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter or not guilty.
The prosecution contends the shooting was the culmination of an ongoing dispute between the two men. Hague did not want Cass to hunt in the lower field on the old Campbell dairy farm, which was near Hague’s home on Tobys Footlog Drive in Union Grove, because the sound of gunfire spooked his horse, according to witness testimony. Cass had been hunting on the property for years and had written permission from the property owner to hunt there.
On September 7, 2020, the first day of dove season, Cass met three hunting companions at the field. Cass’s adult son Thomas was also present, but arrived later than the other men and had not started hunting yet.
Hague, who shot Cass in the head with a handgun at close range in a cornfield just after sunrise, claims he feared for his life and that the shooting was in self-defense.
The defendant testified that Cass, 46, had pushed him to the ground once, was coming at him again and appeared to be reaching for something in his hunting jacket when Hague shot Cass in the face, killing him. Hague told the jury that Cass was “crazy” and looked like he was “out of his mind” as he came at him.
During her closing argument Thursday morning, prosecutor Lisa Coltrain told the jury that Hague’s claim of self-defense was unreasonable and that a reasonable person would not have used deadly force under the circumstances surrounding the shooting. If the jury finds Hague not guilty, Coltrain said, the panel of 10 men and two women will be sending a message to others in the community that it’s okay to use deadly force anytime an unarmed person looks at them with an angry face while approaching them.
The prosecutor argued that the actual motive for the shooting was anger, and that the killing was willful, premeditated and deliberate, which are three of the elements required for a first-degree murder conviction.
“The defendant had a choice. He had many choices that day,” Coltrain told the jury. “He chose to keep pushing the issue. … He chose to confront Tommy. And when he was pushed down, he chose pride and ego and violence. …. He chose to pull out the pistol, he chose to raise his arm. … He chose murder.”
Defense attorney Mark Davis argued that the shooting was legally justified and asked the jury to return a verdict of not guilty.
He pointed to inconsistencies in the testimony of Cass’s three hunting companions, and also implied that Cass was high on drugs at the time he assaulted Hague. The defendant also believed Cass was reaching for a pistol, Davis reminded the jury.
“I think this is a simple case of ‘Do you believe Dale?’ “ the defense attorney argued. “I did. I hope you did. He clearly felt his life was in danger.”
The jury began deliberating around 1:15 p.m. Thursday. Judge David Hall sent the panel home for the day about four hours later after receiving a note from the foreman reporting that one of the jurors felt ill. The judge could replace that juror with one of the two alternates if the juror is unable to continue.
Deliberations are scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Friday.
Sign Up for Our Free Daily E-MAIL EDITION: HERE