Bond was granted Wednesday for an 86-year-old man accused in the fatal shooting of his nephew in a patient’s room at University Hospital last month.
Court officials assembled a hastily called afternoon hearing after a “gravely ill” Charles W. Gorrell was released from Doctors Hospital and sent back into sheriff’s custody at the Charles B. Webster Detention Center on Phinizy Road.
It was Gorrell’s fifth trip to a hospital since his arrest Oct. 16, when authorities say he brought a pistol into his wife’s room on the hospital’s seventh floor and shot 59-year-old Tim Grooms, according to Augusta District Attorney Ashley Wright.
Superior Court Judge William M. Fleming Jr. denied Gorrell’s original request for bond Nov. 1. In his motion to reconsider bond, William Sussman said his client’s health had declined rapidly in the past month – he has dropped 32 pounds and is no longer able to walk.
“He’s no longer ambulatory. He is in a wheelchair,” Sussman said.
The motion states that Gorrell has been diagnosed with diabetes, congestive heart failure and has contracted pneumonia. He was most recently hospitalized for coughing up blood, a complication related to a blood thinning medication he is taking, the motion said.
Maj. Gene Johnson, Richmond County jail administrator, told the court that the jail was not equipped to handle someone with Gorrell’s extensive medical needs.
“He needs to be in a hospital, not in jail,” Johnson said.
The urgency of Gorrell’s health situation was evident by the effort put forth in the hearing to resolve the problem. At one point Superior Court Judge Danny Craig had Johnson, a probation officer with Sentinal Offender Services and the defendant’s son on a speaker-phone conference call in court trying to work out a way to keep the frail inmate from spending another night in jail.
“I’m pretty much convinced that in a jail setting that he might not live to Friday,” Craig said.
There were objections to Gorrell’s release, however. Craig waited to convene the hearing until the victim’s wife, Linda Grooms, could travel to court from Lincoln County.
Grooms said she feared for the safety of her aunt Frances – Gorrell’s wife – if he was released from custody.
“I’m afraid he will get some of his church friends to take him where he wants to go,” Grooms said between sobs. “He would find a way just like he did with my husband.”
Authorities said Grooms’ husband held a power of attorney for his aunt, who was admitted to University Hospital Oct. 15 for treatment of pneumonia.
Officials said that Gorrell objected to some of the decisions Grooms made involving his wife’s care and that there were several disputes leading up to the fatal shooting.
On Oct. 16, an argument developed over who would spend the night at the hospital. Witnesses said Gorrell used a black bag to take a gun into the hospital and fired at least four shots at Grooms, killing him. Gorrell was taken into custody by University Hospital security personnel.
Craig said he, too, was concerned for the family’s safety and sought assurances from Gorrell’s son, Greg Gorrell, that he would keep a close watch on his father at his home in Columbia.
Craig also arranged for an electronic monitoring bracelet to be placed on Gorrell while he is out on bond. The bracelet will alert the probation office, which will call court and sheriff’s officials should Gorrell leave his son’s home before he comes back to court – if that ever happens.
Craig said if he continues to deteriorate Gorrell might only have weeks to live.
Craig said everyone on the alert list should expect a call over the holiday weekend.
“We really do expect that he will be going to a hospital in the next few days,” Craig said.