The South Carolina supreme court has reversed an attempted murder conviction in connection with a 2013 shooting in the violence-prone Five Points region of Columbia, S.C. – one that left then 18-year-old Martha Childress irreversibly paralyzed.
The controversial decision – yet another example of violent criminals receiving deference from the Palmetto State’s court system – overturned the conviction of Michael Juan Smith, who was previously found guilty of attempted murder.
What happened? Smith – a convicted felon who was on parole at the time of the incident – fired his weapon into a crowd in an attempt to shoot a rival gang member. The self-professed gang member missed his target, however. Instead, his bullet struck Childress – who was waiting for a taxi at the time.
The bullet severed her spinal cord, causing immediate, permanent paralysis.
Sources in the legal community were enraged by the court’s decision – as well as its troubling uprooting of established statutory language that governs the charge of attempted murder.
“This is probably one of the worst reversal I have seen in a long, long, long time,” a source familiar with the case told us.
For those of you unfamiliar with the governing statutes at play here, the S.C. Code of Laws – § 16-3-29 – offers a broad definition of attempted murder.
A person who, with intent to kill, attempts to kill another person with malice aforethought, either expressed or implied, commits the offense of attempted murder.
Smith has acknowledged he was attempting to kill someone in firing his weapon – claiming self-defense. That is expressed malice, people.
Even if you dismiss that argument, though (on the basis that Smith’s bullet struck someone he was not intending to strike) there was clearly implied malice to his action. Also, had Childress been killed by Smith’s bullet – as opposed to merely being wounded – he would have obviously faced a murder rap.
Is this victim to be punished because she lived?
Seriously, what sort of legal precedent is the court establishing here? Can gang members who fire indiscriminately into crowds – paralyzing innocent bystanders – expect to escape attempted murder charges in the future?
Astoundingly, in addition to overturning the conviction the court attacked prosecutors for embarking upon an “unrelenting quest to obtain an implied malice charge.”
Prosecutors were simply enforcing the law as it is written.
“The General Assembly’s statement is that malice could be either expressed – I’m going to kill that person – or implied, meaning we can tell from their actions that they are trying to kill that person,” a source familiar with the case told us.
Why is the court trying to rewrite this definition?
Justices also assailed prosecutors for “gross prosecutorial overreach” in discussing the extent of Childress’ injuries – even though S.C. circuit court judge Robert Hood allowed this testimony at Smith’s trial.
Rightfully, in our estimation …
Now the court is attacking prosecutors for evidence a judge admitted? Even if Hood’s decision was erroneous (which we do not think it was), why wouldn’t the court criticize the judge as opposed to the prosecutors?
We don’t get it …
Bigger picture, why is the court removing implied malice definitions that legislators clearly articulated?
If lawmakers wanted to remove implied malice from the attempted murder statute, they would have done so.
And zooming the lens back even further, to the real heart of the matter: Why is South Carolina’s judicial system becoming so hostile to victims of violent crime?
“The supreme court is becoming more and more hostile to the law enforcement community and to prosecutors,” one of our sources in law enforcement told us. “They love to heap criticism on prosecutors and law enforcement officials – never the judges, although in this case the trial judge was correct.”
Indeed … who is protecting victims in this state?
This news outlet has addressed this troubling disconnect often – and we are not the only ones who have done so.
Laura Hudson, executive director of the South Carolina Crime Victims’ Council (SCCVC), blasted the court’s decision.
“Another outrageous example of South Carolina’s Justice system becoming the CRIMINAL’s justice system,” she told us (emphasis original). “The last paragraph of the ruling is the most offensive of all – characterizing the prosecution of ‘gross prosecutorial overreach’ for daring to describe injuries of the victim who will never walk again. There seems to be a dangerous prejudice against victims, law enforcement and prosecutors by the judiciary.”
We concur … and it is frankly past time the scales of justice were tipped back in the direction of victims, not victimizers.
WEB EXTRA: SUPREME COURT RULING
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