Originally created 08/17/99

Aiken judge postpones murder trial



AIKEN -- A judge agreed Monday to delay the capital murder trial of a man accused of killing three social workers in North Augusta in 1996.

Judge Marc H. Westbrook moved the trial of David Mark Hill back one month, setting a new date of Oct. 11. The judge attributed the date change to problems in the past couple of weeks by both the solicitor's office and defense attorneys, including evidentiary questions and details about jury selection.

"I don't know of anything else at this point that could delay it," he said.

The decision came during a brief pretrial hearing at the Aiken County Courthouse, where Mr. Hill and family members of the victims sat silently as the judge finalized details for the trial:

A hearing was set for Sept. 20, when the judge will hear testimony about Mr. Hill's competence to stand trial. If he is found to be incompetent, he will be sent back to a state mental hospital for treatment, and the trial will be postponed indefinitely until he is ruled competent.

Mr. Hill has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, a separate issue that his attorneys will argue during trial.

Judge Westbrook intends to bring about 350 people into court and choose a jury from that number. Selected jurors will be sequestered during the trial.

Mr. Hill will get a third attorney after the judge agreed to allow someone else from the Public Defender's Office to assist in the case. Assistant Public Defender Regina Poteat and Aiken attorney Robert J. Harte already are assigned to the Hill case, but they argued during a July hearing that they needed more help to handle the complex issues and evidence.

Mr. Hill, who has a history of mental disorders and suicide attempts, is accused of walking into the North Augusta office of the Department of Social Services on Sept. 16, 1996, and looking for the case worker involved in placing his children in foster care. The state says he shot that case worker, Jimmy Riddle, 52, and two others, Josie Curry, 35, and Michael Gregory, 30.

Second Circuit Solicitor Barbara Morgan is prosecuting the case.

Greg Rickabaugh covers crime for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.