Mobile County sword attack resulted from argument over marijuana, investigator testifies

Updated: Feb. 24, 2022 at 11:10 AM CST
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - An argument over marijuana sparked a sword attack that left the defendant’s mother dead and two of his family members injured last month, a law enforcement investigator testified Thursday.

Archie Niles Jr., an investigator with the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office, testified that defendant Damien Washam later told him that he “lost it” when he picked up a samurai sword and began slashing.

“He basically stated that he lost it at that point in time. … He just overacted,” Niles testified at a preliminary hearing.

Mobile County District Judge George Hardesty determined that prosecutors had presented sufficient evidence to send the case to a grand jury.

The slaying took place on Jan 16. Niles testified that when he arrived at the Washam home in the Eight Mile area, Helen Nettles Washam already was dead, lying on her right side. An autopsy later revealed she had been cut 19 times on the head, her back and left and right arms. Her left thumb was severed, the detective added.

In addition, Niles testified, the defendant’s bedridden uncle – George Washington Nettles – had severe cuts to his face. The defendant’s teenage brother, Desmon Wassham, suffered cuts to his left wrist.

Niles testified that the defendant’s father, Hubert Washam, notified law enforcement officers that his son was behind his house. Mobile County sheriff’s deputies and Saraland police chased Washam, eventually stopping his dark green 2000 Honda Accord on Alabama 158, near U.S. 45 Niles said the sword was in the front passenger side of the car.

Washam, 23 suffered injuries when law enforcement officers attempted to subdue him with a stun gun. After the hospital released him, deputies arrested him. He has been at Mobile County Metro Jail ever since.

Niles testified that Washam told him he grabbed the sword, which he had bought a week earlier, and chased his mother through the house to back hallway, where deputies found her body.

“He told me he did not recall striking George Nettles” but then agreed he must have after investigators showed him pictures of the bloody bed.

During cross-examination, public defender Ashley Cameron White suggested that her client is suffering from mental illness. She asked the investigator questions about Washam’s mental state. Niles said the two discussed Greek mythology and the sun god. He said Washam also talked about dealing in crypto currency.

In addition, Niles acknowledged, Hubert Washam told him he believes his son was having problems.

“He stated Damien didn’t seem like himself leading up to this incident,” he testified.

In the days after the slaying, Hubert Washam suggested he wanted nothing to do with his son. But he and other family members were present for Thursday’s hearing.

“They believe he was suffering mental illness,” White said in asking for a lower bail. “They are in support of him.”

Assistant District of Attorney Madison Davis urged the judge to raise the bail.

“He clearly has some instability,” she said. “He’s a huge risk to the public. He attacked his family with a samurai sword where he almost decapitated his mother.”

Hardesty left the current bail in place, $750,000 on the murder charge, plus additional amounts for other charges.