Originally created 01/11/00

Condon advises giving up suspect



COLUMBIA -- Etheridge Kneece's days in South Carolina appear to be numbered.

The Attorney General's Office issued a recommendation Monday to Gov. Jim Hodges that the Edgefield man be extradited to Arkansas to face capital murder charges for the alleged double killing-for-hire of his estranged wife and her ex-husband.

"The hands of a defendant who allegedly set the wheels of a murder in motion in South Carolina are the same as those who did the actual killing in Arkansas," Attorney General Charlie Condon said. "This man cannot hide from justice behind state lines."

Mr. Hodges will review the opinion and make a final decision this week, spokeswoman Nina Brook said.

The governor usually accepts such recommendations, said Robb McBurney, the attorney general's spokesman.

Mr. Kneece, 60, is charged in Arkansas in the double slaying and faces the death penalty there.

His estranged wife, Joanne Kneece, and her ex-husband, James Floyd Suggs, were slain Oct. 31. Police say Mr. Kneece paid his niece, Rose Ellen Cushman of Windsor, and her boyfriend, James Arnold Baughman of Trenton, as much as $40,000 to go to Arkansas and kill them.

The victims' bodies were found Nov. 2 in Mark Twain National Forest after Ms. Cushman, 43, said Mr. Baughman had killed the two Oct. 30 and dumped their bodies in the remote area near the Arkansas-Missouri state line.

Arkansas sought extradition of Mr. Kneece last November. A hearing was held in Columbia on Thursday, when Mr. Kneece's attorney, John Harte of Aiken, argued that his client was in South Carolina at the time of the slayings and, therefore, should not be extradited.

Mr. Condon disagreed, saying Mr. Kneece was "legally present" in Arkansas when the killings were committed.

"It is a legal term which means the hand of one is the hand of all," Mr. McBurney said. "If he was involved in that murder, he was legally present for the murder."

Mr. Harte did not return telephone messages seeking comment.

The recommendation came as a surprise to Benton County Prosecuting Attorney Brad Butler, who had expected South Carolina to keep Mr. Kneece.

"Arkansas has a territorial jurisdiction statute, so if you intend for a crime to happen in Arkansas, then you can be charged in Arkansas. South Carolina does not have the same statute," Mr. Butler said. "It looked initially like he wouldn't be returned here."

After a thorough investigation, Mr. Butler now believes the killings may have partially been committed because of Mr. Kneece's jealousy. The fact Mr. Kneece's wife was with another man may have angered him, he said.

Mrs. Kneece's knowledge of her estranged husband's alleged drug trafficking operation and her potential testimony at a sexual abuse hearing involving her daughter and Mr. Kneece also may have led to the slayings, Mr. Butler said.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 279-6895.