Across South Carolina

Ex-executive loses appeal of sentence


COLUMBIA --- Four years after he was sent to prison for his role in one of the state's largest bankruptcies, former HomeGold Chief Executive Ronnie Sheppard pleaded with South Carolina's Supreme Court that his 20-year prison sentence was too harsh.

His punishment, Sheppard and his attorneys argued, was more than twice as long as that of the handful of other executives convicted in the company's multimillion-dollar downfall.

On Monday, the justices overruled Sheppard's pleas and denied his appeal for either a new trial or a sentence reduction.

In 2007, a Lexington County jury found Sheppard, 53, guilty of securities fraud, conspiracy and obtaining property by false pretenses in the 2003 collapse of HomeGold and its subsidiary, Carolina Investors.

More than 8,000 investors lost $275 million in the bankruptcy of Carolina Investors, which rocked northern South Carolina.

Senate Democrats ask for redistricting office

ATLANTA --- Senate Democrats are calling for the creation of a new office that would address the minority party's concerns in this summer's redistricting showdown.

Democrats balked last week as the Legislature's GOP leadership announced the establishment of a Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office to handle redistricting. The move ends a long-standing arrangement with the University of Georgia's nonpartisan Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

Democrats complained that they weren't consulted about the decision and say they are concerned about what they see as partisan and unfair changes to the process.

As the fight over redistricting loomed anew, Sen. Robert Brown told his colleagues Monday to look forward to "a very, very difficult process."

Brown and Democratic Caucus Chairman Sen. Doug Stoner indicated that the new redistricting system could run afoul of the Department of Justice. Georgia's redistricting plan is subject to federal scrutiny and approval under the Voting Rights Act.

House OKs bill to aid surviving spouses

ATLANTA --- The House on Monday unanimously passed legislation to allow the surviving spouses of some state workers killed in the line of duty to continue to collect health insurance benefits.

The bill was inspired by Georgia State Trooper Chadwick LeCroy, who was gunned down during a traffic stop late last year. It passed the House 163-0 on Monday.

Sponsored by House Speaker David Ralston, the measure initially would have covered all state employees killed while performing their jobs. It was amended to cover just public safety and Department of Transportation workers.

The bill would allow LeCroy's widow, Keisha, to continue to receive health benefits under the state plan -- rather than forcing her to the more expensive COBRA plan that could cost about $900 a month.

LeCroy died after being shot in the neck during a Dec. 27 traffic stop.

The bill would also apply to the family of Spencer Pass, a state Department of Transportation "HERO" operator killed while helping a motorist on Interstate 85 south of downtown Atlanta last week.

Marine recruit dies; meningitis suspected

BEAUFORT, S.C. --- A 19-year-old recruit from Georgia at the Marine Corps training base in South Carolina has died, and officials are checking to see whether she suffered from meningitis.

The Island Packet of Hilton Head Island reports Keerica R. Allen, of Atlanta, died late Saturday at Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

The Marine Corps says tests on the exact cause of death are not in, and as many as 200 Parris Island personnel who might have encountered the recruit have been given an antibiotic as a precaution.