It happened again Tuesday. Murder charges against two men in Edgefield County were dismissed because of the extensive delay between the killing and prosecution.
In orders signed Tuesday, Presiding Judge Eugene C. Griffith of the 11th Judicial Circuit dismissed the charges against Shannon Devon Patton and Daniel Joseph Newton, more than 15 years after investigators contend they forced Jack Abbott Murray into the trunk of his vehicle which they drove to Edgefield County and set on fire.
Murray, 63, was found dead on Nov. 18, 2002. He had been beaten and bound and left to die.
“I’m so angry,” Murray’s son, Michael Murray, told The Augusta Chronicle last month when it appeared the judge would likely dismiss the murder charges against Patton and Newton because of the lengthy delay in prosecution.
When The Chronicle published a story in 2014 about the case and the lack of prosecution in South Carolina, then Solicitor Donnie Myers claimed he hadn’t pursued pressing murder charges against Patton and Newton because he believed they were serving life in prison without the possibility of parole in Georgia.
Murder charges were not filed until 2015. Patton and Newton have been held in the Edgefield County jail since January 2016.
Patton and Newton pleaded guilty to kidnapping and other charges in Columbia County Superior Court in January 2004. As Patton’s defense attorney, Charles Lyons III, pointed out in his motion to dismiss, it was clearly stated in the 2004 sentencing documents that it was life with the possibility of parole.
The judge was not moved by the solicitor’s reason for the delay either. “In conclusion, the state chose intentionally not to try the defendants based upon a reason that was completely erroneous and unreasonable. The state made no efforts to contact the Georgia Department of Corrections, (the Board of Pardons and Paroles) nor the local prosecutor in Georgia, who prosecuted the case, concerning the parole eligibility of the defendant,” he wrote.
The new solicitor for Edgefield County, Rick Hubbard, did not return phone calls seeking comment on the case.
The lack of prosecution of crimes that started on the Georgia side of the river and ended on the South Carolina side infuriated then District Attorney Daniel J. Craig in 2004. Not only had the solicitor taken no action to prosecute Patton and Newton, no action was taken to prosecute brothers Alexander and Julio Hunsberger who took part in the kidnapping and slaying of 16-year-old Samuel Sturrup on Sept. 3, 2001.
“…When I have asked repeatedly for your office to diligently pursue the prosecution of murders that occurred in our jurisdiction, it was because the Constitution of the United States requires such diligence. I regret that I was not more aggressive,” Craig wrote. “My patience has apparently been inferred by you as unawareness that you were jeopardizing the chance for successful prosecution of those cases.”
The Hunsbergers were arrested in 2002 but were not tried until 2012. The South Carolina Supreme Court threw out Alexander Hunsberger’s conviction on appeal based on the violation of the right to a speedy trial. Julio Hunsberger’s conviction was also reversed by the court in October 2016.
The ringleader in Sturrup’s death, Steven Barnes, was tried in 2010 in Edgefield, convicted and sentenced to death. But his conviction was reversed on appeal in 2014. In October , Barnes was tried again, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.