William "Junior" Downs is in a jail cell less than 18 miles from the Richmond County Law Enforcement Center. But getting him there to face a death penalty trial in the 1991 slaying of a 10-year-old Richmond County boy isn't as easy as the half-hour's drive.
The problem is, the drive passes over the Savannah River, and South Carolina authorities might be reluctant to send him across before they're through with him.
Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Danny Craig said he wants the trial to start by spring, but first the defendant must be arraigned in Richmond County Superior Court.
Aiken County courts are known to have long waits in death penalty cases, and given another recent delay, 2nd Circuit Solicitor Barbara Morgan likely will have her hands full well into next year with the capital murder trial of a man accused of killing four employees at R.E. Phelon Co. in 1997.
Mr. Downs, 33, was indicted on murder charges in Richmond County last year in the death of James Porter, whose body was found in the river after he disappeared almost a decade ago. In Aiken, Mr. Downs is charged with murder, kidnapping and criminal sexual conduct with a minor in the 1999 killing of Keenan O'Mailia, 6, in North Augusta.
Ms. Morgan said death penalty indictments are pending against him in South Carolina, which makes turning him over to Georgia - even temporarily - complicated.
If her state were to let him go before the case is disposed of, they might have trouble getting him back, she said. She knows of no procedure that would allow the defendant to bounce between the two border counties.
Taking prisoners out of South Carolina also can be tricky because the state has yet to sign the Uniform Extradition Act, which provides procedural guidelines and agreements for transferring prisoners from state to state.
"If he had no charges (here), he'd be over there yesterday," Ms. Morgan said. "Because he has pending charges, you're not allowed to (release him to another state) unless matters are cleared up on this side."
The Richmond County indictment came soon after Mr. Downs surrendered to Aiken authorities, who said he admitted to killing James while confessing to killing Keenan. He has been incarcerated in South Carolina since.
South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges received an extradition request from Gov. Roy Barnes last week but will not agree to turn Mr. Downs over to Georgia authorities until South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon conducts a hearing and gives a recommendation, Hodges spokesman Morton Brilliant said.
No hearing has been scheduled in the matter.
James' mother, Kathy Porter, spent eight years wondering what happened to her son, who vanished on the way to the store to pick up milk for his sister. She said she will continue waiting for a trial in either state.
"I just want it to be over with," she said Wednesday. "I just want to lay it to rest."
Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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