September 30, 2014

Victim’s mother seeks tougher punishments for convicted killers

Dana Woods (L) and June Guerry were killed in August 2012. The man who admitted shooting both was sentenced to 55 years last month (Image: Jennifer Hill)

Dana Woods (L) and June Guerry were killed in August 2012. The man who admitted shooting both was sentenced to 55 years last month (Image: Jennifer Hill)

Jennifer Hill said she was shocked when a judge sentenced a Summerville man who confessed to killing both her daughter and a friend to a comparatively-low 55 years in prison last month.

Caleb Matlock was found guilty of murdering 18-year-old Dana Woods and her friend 22-year-old June Guerry in August 2012. Prosecutors said Matlock and another man had gotten a ride with the pair near Moncks Corner before killing both women and stealing Woods’ car. He eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of murder, two counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, armed robbery, and third-degree arson. The other man, Arthur Ray Chavis, has not yet had his case go to trial.

Circuit Judge Brooks Goldsmith sentenced Matlock to 55 years in prison — or, as Hill notes, roughly 27 years for each victim. Matlock had no previous convictions (although he had a previous charge of failure to stop for blue lights) and apologized in court before his sentence was handed down.

“I felt like I got hit in the stomach,” Hill told South Carolina Radio Network. “The judge might as well have walked up to me and punched me and said, ‘You know what, (Dana) wasn’t worth anything.”

Angry about what she considers a light sentence, Hill said she began researching what she could do to push for a change in the state’s mandatory minimum laws. In South Carolina, a murder conviction requires at least 30 total years in prison, but gives a judge discretion above that.

[Read more...]

Floyd, Sabb make it to runoff in Williamsburg County Senate race

Sam Floyd (Image: samfloydforsenate32.com)

Sam Floyd (Image: samfloydforsenate32.com)

The State Election Commission has upheld the results following a Friday recount in the race to fill Lt. Governor Yancey McGill’s vacant state Senate seat. Senate District 32 represents most of Williamsburg County, and parts of Berkeley, Florence, Georgetown, and Horry counties in South Carolina’s Pee Dee region.

While Kingstree attorney Sam Floyd easily took the most votes in Tuesday’s Democratic Party primary, his 32.3% percent of the total was well below the majority required to avoid a runoff. Elections officials are holding a recount to officially determine who will face Floyd in the September 16 runoff, as second place finisher State Rep. Ronnie Sabb, D-Kingstree (24.5% of the vote) and third place Cezar McKnight (24.2%) were separated by less than 1 percent of the vote.

State Rep. Ronnie Sabb, D-Kingstree

State Rep. Ronnie Sabb, D-Kingstree

Sabb held off McKnight among the totals from the five counties covered by Senate District 32. The final certified results show the current state House member edged out the third-place finisher by just 37 votes. Another Democratic legislator, Rep. Carl Anderson, D-Georgetown, finished fourth in the race with 19 percent support.

Floyd, Sabb, and McKnight are all attorneys in the small town of Kingstree. Anderson is a pastor and insurance agent in neighboring Georgetown County.

The winner of the Democratic primary in two weeks will almost certainly take the seat on Election Day as no Republicans are running. Under South Carolina law, Republicans can also vote in the Democratic race since there is no GOP primary.

The special election is being held after McGill resigned his Senate seat in June to become South Carolina’s lieutenant governor. McGill made the move after previous Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell left the Lt. Gov. post to become the College of Charleston’s new president.

Cannabis oil bill now law in SC, but families face hurdles for the treatment

Janel Ralph speaks with a reporter after Wednesday's hearing. Her daughter Harmony (at right) suffers from seizures due to a brain disorder, but is not eligible for the new treatment

Janel Ralph speaks with a reporter after Wednesday’s hearing. Her daughter Harmony (at right) suffers from seizures due to a brain disorder, but is not eligible for the new treatment

Earlier this year, legislators passed a new law allowing children who suffer severe forms of epilepsy to use an experimental oil extracted from marijuana.

But state officials now say complications could prevent those children’s families from buying the very oil they need.

The problems were laid out in front of a special legislative committee studying possible medical marijuana use in South Carolina. During a meeting Wednesday, committee members learned more about a planned Medical University of South Carolina clinical trial that will test the drug Epidolex on about 5-10 patients who suffer from Davet Syndrome. The trial will test the British drug’s effectiveness in patients suffering from the severe form of epilepsy. Similar tests are already underway in other states, including Georgia. MUSC hopes to begin the study next year.

Epidiolex is a form of cannabidiol oil (also known as “CBD oil”) that is extracted from cannabis. It does not contain plant’s chemicals that create the sensation of feeling “high.”

[Read more...]

New SC law creates crime for library trespassing

Richland County Library in downtown Columbia

Richland County Library in downtown Columbia

South Carolina libraries will now have new methods to keep those they say are disruptive or a nuisance from entering the grounds.

State lawmakers last week overrode Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for a person to return to a library after being told in writing to stay away by library employees.

The state House of Representatives narrowly overrode the governor’s veto in a 75-36 vote last week (72 votes were needed under the state constitution’s two-thirds requirement). The House came back for a special one-day session, as they did not get the governor’s veto until after their regular session ended in June. Haley had opposed the measure, saying it could violate due process rights.

“(I)t grants library employees wide authority to deprive citizens of their ability to use public libraries for an indefinite amount of time based on mere allegations of misconduct,” the governor’s veto message stated. She instead encouraged county governments to pass individual laws on the local level.

[Read more...]

Former Myrtle Beach legislator pleads not guilty to laundering charge

Former State Rep. Thad Viers speaks shortly before his resignation in March 2012 (Courtesy: SCETV)

Former State Rep. Thad Viers speaks shortly before his resignation in March 2012 (Courtesy: SCETV)

A former state legislator has pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering and engaging in transactions using illegal proceeds.

Former State Rep. Thad Viers entered the plea during his arraignment in federal court Thursday. Prosecutors say the Myrtle Beach Republican helped a paving contractor who had defaulted on a $6 million road project.

An indictment unsealed earlier this month asserts that Viers helped the man hide his ownership in a marina and an investment firm when a bonding company sought to collect the debt. That contractor Marlon Weaver pleaded guilty to money laundering in 2013.

Viers was indicted on 12 counts of engaging in transactions using illegal proceeds, one count of money laundering, and another count of lying to an IRS agent. Prosecutors say Weaver backdated documents to make it appear he had transferred his interest in the marina and side business.

The indictment states Viers helped Weaver hide his financial assets by withdrawing $524,000 from his law firm’s trust account between February and October 2011. The indictment states Viers knew the money came from Weaver’s unlawful activities. Viers was also accused of working with a third man to help hide Weaver’s assets from September 2009 to October 2011.

According to the Associated Press, Viers’ attorney Pete Strom maintained that his client did not realize he was breaking the law. Strom told reporters outside the Florence courtroom Thursday that South Carolina’s two law schools do not properly teach law students about complex financial matters they could encounter.

Viers served in the state House of Representatives from 2003 until 2012. He resigned to face harassment charges and eventually pleaded guilty to second-degree harassment in January. He was sentenced to 60 days in prison (to be served on weekends) and a year of probation. Most of these new charges allegedly occurred while Viers was still in the House, although prosecutors say the charge of lying to an IRS agent stems from a March conversation.