Originally created 08/01/98

Bounty hunters in court

Bounty hunters who fired at a fleeing car being chased through Columbia and Richmond counties earlier this year received probation sentences Friday.

Rachel Diane Davis, 20, and Daniel Murdie Smith, 18, pleaded guilty to reduced charges Friday in Richmond County Superior Court. Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet sentenced the pair to five years probation, $1,000 fines and granted them First Offender status when they pleaded guilty to criminal damage to property in the first degree.

"When I read about this in the paper, I thought it was the craziest doggone thing I've heard in my life. Stupid, stupid, stupid," Judge Overstreet said.

Ms. Davis and Mr. Smith were working for Nite-N-Day bonding company on Feb. 23 when they went looking for Renae Blackman at a Stevens Creek Road apartment. Ms. Blackman had failed to appear in a Columbia County court to face misdemeanor charges, although no arrest warrant had been issued.

When the shotgun wielding bounty hunters were disarmed by Ross Fox, a friend of Ms. Blackman's, a car chase ensued through Columbia and Richmond counties. Ms. Davis and Mr. Smith fired a shotgun at the fleeing pair, causing $1,500 in damages to Ms. Blackman's vehicle.

On Friday, defense attorney Kirk Gilliard asked for leniency for Ms. Davis, a straight-A high school graduate prepared to start college later this month, and for Mr. Smith, who is working full-time and trying to earn a GED. Neither Ms. Davis nor Mr. Smith had ever been arrested before, Mr. Gilliard said, and both believed they had jurisdiction to arrest Ms. Blackman. They were trying to shoot out the tires of Ms. Blackman's car during the chase, Mr. Gilliard said.

The prosecutor's office dropped aggravated assault, weapon and trespassing charges against the pair as part of the plea-negotiation.

The wild chase by the bounty hunters was one of the incidents leading to a movement in the state General Assembly to pass legislation to regulate bounty hunters. No bill has been passed yet, however.

The statewide movement mimics a national effort in the U.S. Congress to arm innocent citizens with the right to legally pursue wrongful acts by bounty hunters following last fall's killing of two Arizona residents by alleged bounty hunters who broke into a home and started shooting. Several others around the country have also been beaten and shot, a number of whom were mistaken for people who failed to appear in court.


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