Originally created 12/03/01

4-year-old Aiken case nears trial



AIKEN - Four years, four months and 26 days.

That's how long 20-year-old Kai Yang has been in the Aiken County Detention Center awaiting trial for murder.

He's celebrated five birthdays in his maximum security cell since his July 7, 1997, arrest in the June 23, 1997, killing and armed robbery of an Aiken pawn shop owner.

Carlton Ennis, 56, was found shot inside his Southside Pawn and Gold Shop on Owens Street.

Barring unexpected circumstances, Mr. Yang's case will go to trial this week in General Sessions Court at the Aiken County Judicial Center.

Mr. Yang waived his right to a jury trial a month ago. Now his fate rests in the hands of Circuit Court Judge James Williams.

The judge ordered the trial to go forward because it is the oldest case on 2nd Circuit Solicitor Barbara Morgan's docket.

Ms. Morgan said she is the only one who has attempted to start a trial in the case more than once in the past.

Kelley Brown, Mr. Yang's lawyer, declined to comment.

Mr. Yang is the last of four defendants in the case to see his day in court.

The getaway car driver, Curtis Kesl, is serving 30 years in prison. He pleaded guilty to murder in March 1999, making a deal with prosecutors to implicate the others in return for dropping a charge of robbery and two other charges. The other two men were convicted of murder and are serving life in prison.

Mr. Ennis' brother Dewey said the other trials and the wait for the fourth have been hard to deal with.

"We don't understand why it's been drug out so long," he said. "The longer it is drug out, the harder it is on the family."

One of Ms. Morgan's colleagues, Trey Gowdy, the head prosecutor in Cherokee and Spartanburg counties, said that while most people believe prosecutors have total control over cases, they can't control whether cases are ready for trial. He said motions and evidence gathering can slow a case.

"You don't want to call a case if it is not ready to be called," he said.

But Bill McAninch, a criminal and constitutional law professor at the University of South Carolina law school, said four years is "an outrageously long time" to hold a defendant.

The professor notes that keeping Mr. Yang in jail on the charges requires only probable cause, but says that standard of evidence is low and not strong enough to justify four years in jail.

"That's pretty weak to keep a guy for four years on that definition," Mr. McAninch said.

Reach Matthew Boedy at (803) 648-1395 or matthew.boedy@augustachronicle.com.

Circuit Court Judge James Williams will hear the case this week in General Sessions Court at the Aiken County Judicial Center.