December 20, 2014

Former Marine ruled insane after stealing fire truck, killing pedestrian

Naval Hospital Beaufort (Image: US Navy)

Naval Hospital Beaufort (Image: US Navy)

A former Marine who escaped from the Naval Hospital Beaufort wearing only his boxer shorts, stole a fire truck, and then used it to strike and kill a pedestrian has been found not guilty by reason of insanity.

The Beaufort Gazette reports that Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen issued the ruling Thursday in the case of 28-year-old Kalvin Hunt of Sumter. Hunt had been charged with murder and numerous other counts in the death of 28-year-old Justin Miller. Psychiatrists have diagnosed Hunt with paranoid schizophrenia. He is now at a secure state Department of Mental Health facility, the newspaper reports.

Investigators said Hunt had been taken to the naval hospital for evaluation on February 24, 2012 by a Beaufort County Veterans Affairs officer after Hunt’s mother expressed concerns about his well-being. At some point, Hunt escaped from hospital personnel and fled the grounds. The 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office said Hunt eventually came across a Port Royal Fire Department truck that was responding to a call at a nearby apartment complex. He got into the truck and drove off, later striking six other cars and running down Miller while the other man walked along Ribaut Road, prosecutors said. Hunt then crashed in a wooded area.

The judge said a new hearing and judicial decision would be held if Hunt is ever recommended for release. He was dishonorably discharged from the Marines not long after the incident.

A lawsuit was filed last year against the naval hospital and Hunt by another driver whose SUV was hit by the fire truck.

SC probation agency director resigns

PPP director Kela Thomas had been with the agency for most of Gov. Nikki Haley's first term

PPP director Kela Thomas had been with the agency for most of Gov. Nikki Haley’s first term

The director of South Carolina’s Department of Probation, Pardon, and Parole (PPP) has resigned.

An agency spokesman confirmed Wednesday that Kela Thomas submitted a resignation letter to Gov. Nikki Haley after four years leading the agency. Thomas was one of the original Cabinet members from Gov. Haley’s first year in office. She was a deputy director at PPP when the governor promoted her in February 2011. Haley’s first choice to lead the agency left after less than a month in charge.

The State newspaper first reported the departure, noting an email was sent to PPP employees on Wednesday. No reason was given in the resignation letter. The spokesman said Deputy Director Scott Norton will act as interim director while the governor finds a replacement.

PPP is responsible for transitioning offenders back into public through probation and parole. The agency also helps victims of those offenders recoup any financial losses from their crimes.

[Read more…]

Judge rules 14-year-old should not have been executed 70 years ago

George Stinney Jr. was electrocuted in 1944. (Credit: albany.edu)

George Stinney Jr. was electrocuted in 1944. (Credit: albany.edu)

A South Carolina circuit judge has overturned the 1944 murder conviction of a 14-year-old Clarendon County boy, saying the African-American teen’s arrest, conviction, and execution were done so quickly that it violated his due process rights.

George Stinney was executed less than three months after his arrest and subsequent conviction for the murder of two white girls, ages 7 and 11. The case got renewed attention last year after Stinney’s family and other supporters sought to clear his name through the South Carolina court system, believing that the teen was a victim of “Jim Crow”-era laws and prejudices.

In her ruling Wednesday, Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen ruled Stinney’s rights were violated, “Given the particularized circumstances of Stinney’s case, I find by a preponderance of the evidence standard, that a violation of the Defendant’s procedural due process rights tainted his prosecution.”

Third Circuit Solicitor Ernest “Chip” Finney (ironically, the son of South Carolina’s first black Supreme Court chief justice) had argued for the state. Finney said not enough evidence has survived to justify reopening the case seven decades later. While he agreed during court proceedings in January that Stinney should not have been executed, Finney argued the court followed state law at the time.

An attorney representing the Stinney family claimed there was not enough evidence to find the teen guilty and that law enforcement coerced him into confessing to the crimes.

Reports from witnesses at the time suggest that no physical evidence was presented during the three-hour trial beyond a witness who saw Stinney speaking with the girls before their deaths. Two officers testified that Stinney had confessed, but no written document was ever submitted to the court. No witnesses were called by a public defender who led Stinney’s defense. An all-white jury (blacks could not serve at the time) convicted Stinney within minutes. His family was not in attendance, later saying they had been threatened and forced to leave town. His attorney did not appeal the death penalty.

Stinney died in an electric chair within 85 days of his arrest. He was the youngest person ever executed in the United States during the 20th Century.

Judge rejects former Lexington County sheriff’s plea agreement

Former sheriff James Metts leaves the courthouse shortly after the hearing

Former sheriff James Metts leaves the courthouse shortly after Wednesday’s hearing

A federal judge has rejected a proposed plea deal that would have given former Lexington County Sheriff James Metts only three years probation.

Metts had faced ten charges related to a pair of illegal immigrants that prosecutors say he released from the county detention center. The indictments had stated the sheriff did so after the suspected aliens’ employer paid him an undisclosed amount of money. But the U.S. Attorney’s Office had agreed to drop all charges but one — conspiracy to harbor aliens — in exchange for a guilty plea from Metts.

But U.S. District Judge Terry Wooten told both federal prosecutors and defense attorneys Wednesday that the proposed sentence of three years probation was much less severe than the 10-16 months that federal guidelines recommend. Saying the conspiracy count was a “serious charge,” Wooten noted it was extremely rare for probation to be granted where the guidelines require jail time. He instead ordered both sides to prepare for a trial on January 12. Jury selection will begin on January 5.

Under court rules, the rejected guilty plea cannot be used against Metts in his upcoming trial.

Neither side wished to comment after the decision, which appeared to catch both prosecutors and defense by surprise.

“We have consistently not spoken to media about this case or tried this case in the media,” Metts’ lead attorney Scott Schools told reporters gathered outside the Matthew Perry Courthouse in Columbia. “So we have no comment about the case. We will get ready for trial.” In previous filings, defense attorneys have insisted federal prosecutors are relying on unreliable witnesses. They maintained that Metts at worst did not notify the Department of Homeland Security about the releases because he did not realize it was required.

U.S. Attorney for South Carolina Bill Nettles did not say anything as his team walked out of the courthouse.

The indictments claim that Midlands restaurant owner Gregorio Leon would contact a “business liaison” with the Sheriff’s Department, to ask for help with employees who had been detained on immigration violations. The liaison (former Lexington Town Councilman) Danny Frazier would then arrange for Metts to receive cash in exchange for his help, prosecutors say.

Metts was suspended from office soon after the indictments were handed down in June. He officially retired from the office in a letter sent to Gov. Nikki Haley on Tuesday, after the guilty plea was submitted. Haley appointed Lewis McCarty to serve as acting sheriff in June.

Three contractors heading to prison for fraud at Shaw Air Base

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U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Kenny Holston/Released

Three contractors who worked on construction jobs at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter admitted defrauding the federal government on Tuesday.

60-year-old James Clemens of Johnston, 64-year-old Larry Baker of Cameron, and North Carolina native Steven Crandell all pleaded guilty in federal court in Columbia, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The three men were accused of inflating their construction costs by submitting false statements for worker hours and materials for work at the base. Those false statements resulted in the men being overpaid by roughly $1.4 million, according to prosecutors. The three must repay that amount, while each was sentenced to time in prison.

Prosecutors said Clemens worked for government contractor APM LLC, which handled all construction projects under $750,000 at the base. Baker and Crandell were subcontractors who split the overpayments between them, according to the Department of Defense’s Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS).

“These conspirators took funds away from the warfighter,” John Khin, the DCIS Southeast Field Office Special Agent in Charge, said in a statement.

Clemens received a sentence of 48 months of in prison, Baker received a sentence of 15 months and Crandall was sentenced to 5 months.

“Mr. Clemens guilty plea is significant in sending a message that while fraud involving government contracts may be initially lucrative, nothing lasts forever and the consequences are serious. We and our law enforcement partners will work continuously to uncover this type of criminal activity,” Thomas Holloman III, Special Agent in Charge for IRS Criminal Investigation, said in a statement.