October 21, 2014

Inmate gets third life sentence after killing cellmate

John New mug shot taken in 2012 (SC Department of Corrections)

John New mug shot taken in 2012 (SC Department of Corrections)

An inmate has now been given his third life sentence after he pleaded guilty to killing and mutilating his cellmate.

The 11th Circuit Solicitor’s Office announced that 35-year-old John New’s sentence was handed down last week. New had been charged with killing 49-year-old Ricky Cooper in the McCormick Correctional Institution back in November 2011. State police said at the time that Cooper had been found strangled near a shower with the word “pervert” written on his forehead. Cooper was serving a 20-year sentence at the time for criminal sexual conduct with a minor.

At the time of Cooper’s death, New was already serving two life sentences for taking hostages during a prison riot 11 years earlier. Prior to that New, formerly of Greenville, was serving time for a series of larceny and burglary charges.

The death generated some minor controversy at the time, as McCormick was more than 100 inmates above its 1,142 capacity at the time of 2011 strangulation. The chair of the state Senate Corrections & Penology Committee Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, had also said officials told him it took time to find Cooper’s body after he was first reported missing in the facility, which Fair attributed to guard understaffing.

Cooper had been a Graniteville resident before his incarceration. He was accused of assaulting two children under age 12.

Jury awards $97.5 million to ex-Cottageville mayor’s family after shooting

The family of former Cottageville mayor Albert “Bert” Reeves was awarded $97.5 million for his shooting death by a police officer three years ago.

The Post and Courier reports the federal court jury reached the decision Wednesday in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Reeves’ family. Reeves was shot by Cottageville Police officer Randall Price during a May 2011 argument. The family’s attorney Mullins McLeod said the mayor had previously complained about Price arresting one of his construction company’s employees and had raised concerns about the officer’s “aggressive behavior.”

The newspaper noted that Price’s attorney Lake Summers said the ex-mayor suffered from bipolar disorder and was enraged when he confronted the officer, causing Price to fire in self-defense after Reeves began throwing punches. Price was investigated by the State Law Enforcement Division, but was not charged.

Cottageville is a town of roughly 700 residents located near the Edisto River between North Charleston and Walterboro.

The family’s complaint against the town claimed that Price was hired despite being fired from three previous law enforcement jobs. McLeod argued that Cottageville, which gets about 70 percent of its revenue from traffic tickets, had supported Price’s “aggressive” style of policing.

The jury’s award includes $7.5 million actual damages, $60 million in punitive damages against the town and $30 million punitive damages against Price.

“I cannot thank the jury enough for their courage to do justice in this case,” Ashley Reeves Lowe said in a statement released by the family’s attorney. “My children take great comfort in knowing their father’s name has been cleared and that this officer will no longer carry a gun and a badge.”

Cottageville leaders have not yet indicated if they will appeal the decision.

Second lawsuit filed against SC gay marriage ban

Charleston County councilwoman Colleen Condon (at right) and her partner Nichols Bleckley attend a rally last week

Charleston County councilwoman Colleen Condon (at right) and her partner Nichols Bleckley attend a rally last week

A second lawsuit has now been filed against South Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage.

A pair of LGBT rights organizations filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday on behalf of a Charleston County lesbian couple whose application for a marriage license last week was halted by a state Supreme Court ruling.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the 4th Circuit Court’s decision invalidating Virginia’s similar ban. Because the 4th Circuit Court’s jurisdiction includes South Carolina, observers say it creates the precedent for any federal judge to almost certainly also rule South Carolina’s ban unconstitutional. Federal District Judge Michelle Childs is currently handling a separate lawsuit (Bradacs v. Haley) filed by two Lexington County women who were married in Washington, D.C.

After the Supreme Court’s action, Charleston County probate judge Irvin Condon began accepting applications from same-sex couples. The first couple to apply was Charleston County Councilwoman Colleen Condon (a distant cousin of the judge) and her partner Nichols Bleckley. But Condon and Bleckley never received their license — the state Supreme Court ordered Judge Condon to stop, ruling that the Bradacs case should be decided first.

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Assault charge dismissed against Parris Island Marine who confronted protester

Sgt. Maj. Paul Archie (at right) confronts protester Ethan Arguello in a video posted to YouTube (YouTube screengrab)

Sgt. Maj. Paul Archie (at right) confronts protester Ethan Arguello in a video posted to YouTube (YouTube screengrab)

An assault charge has been dismissed against a former sergeant major at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island.

44-year-old Sgt. Maj. Paul Archie resigned his post and later retired from the Marines after he was charged with third-degree assault and battery following a June 5 incident outside the depot. During the incident, which was caught on film, Archie confronted a protester at the base gate. The video showed Archie and the retired Marine protestor Ethan Arguello going nose to nose in argument before a frustrated Archie grabs Arguello’s drill instructor hat (which Marines call a “campaign cover”), gets into his vehicle, and drives off. A Port Royal police officer can also be seen trying to intervene during the confrontation.

Arguello, a retired Marine drill instructor, had been protesting President Obama’s decision to exchange five high-ranking Taliban members in exchange for the safe return of U.S. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. According to reports at the time, Archie had previously asked Arguello to remove his drill instructor cover while protesting.

The website Triumph Business Communications reported Tuesday that the charges against Archie have been dismissed, with a Port Royal municipal judge agreeing with Archie’s attorneys on October 10 that the incident did not meet the definition of assault.

“I truly believe that all defendants are entitled to a presumption of innocence from the beginning and am very disappointed that SgtMaj Archie did not receive that consideration from the Marine Corps, instead getting relieved prematurely,” Archie’s attorney Nick Stephens said, according to the release. “He is now vindicated.”

The Marine Corps had said at the time that Archie’s retirement was voluntary. “Understanding the Marine Corps has very high standards of personal and professional conduct for its most senior leaders, Sgt. Maj. Archie voluntarily stepped down as the depot sergeant major, and the commanding general regrettably accepted his retirement,” the statement said.

However, Archie said his superiors made it clear that he would be relieved from his duties if he did not resign. He officially retired from the service on September 30.

According to the Marine Corps Times, Arguello had said earlier this year that he would not pursue the charges.

South Carolina Law Enforcement Division assisting in death investigation of Clemson student

SLED

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is assisting the Oconee County Sheriff’s Department in its investigation into the death of Tucker Hipps, a Clemson University student found dead in Lake Hartwell last month, Thom Berry, a SLED spokesman, said Friday. According to the Greenville News.

“We did assign an agent to help coordinate work between their agency and our offices here, as far as any forensic work or any other efforts or work they may need from us,” Berry said. “Oconee County is still the lead on it but we are assisting them.”

He said the solicitor’s office has not asked SLED to take over the investigation.

Divers searched for clues last week as part of the investigation into Hipps’ death, authorities said.