Two of the three sexual assault cases involving accused teen rapist Bowen Turner were improperly assigned to the office of embattled South Carolina second circuit solicitor Bill Weeks, multiple sources familiar with the referrals told this news outlet over the weekend.
A Calhoun County case stemming from an alleged assault that took place in April of 2018 and the June 2019 assault against Chloe Bess in Orangeburg County both fell under the purview of S.C. first circuit solicitor David Pascoe.
Pascoe referred these two cases to Weeks, however, because the defendant’s father was an investigator in his office. Neither case is active. The 2018 case was dropped, while Bess’ case resulted in a hugely controversial plea agreement and probationary sentence for Turner.
Meanwhile, an October 2018 sexual assault case involving Turner which fell under Weeks’ jurisdiction was controversially dropped last month – however the outcome of that decision is under review (and under appeal). The victim in this case – Dallas Stoller – took her life last fall after being subjected to relentless bullying from Turner supporters who stalked and harassed her both on- and offline.
Stoller’s family members – and Bess and her family – have emerged as top advocates for reform of the Palmetto State’s badly broken “justice” system. Their advocacy has generated national headlines – empowering victims and putting supporters of the current system on the defensive.
As for Turner, he was arrested last week on charges of disorderly conduct, underage alcohol possession and threatening a public official – all less than a month after receiving his sweetheart plea deal. He remains incarcerated at the Orangeburg-Calhoun detention center awaiting a June 8, 2022 hearing regarding the status of his probation.
While we await that hearing, controversy has erupted over the handoff from Pascoe to Weeks – and whether it was conducted in accordance with state law. According to Pascoe, his office had a “reciprocal agreement” with former second circuit solicitor Strom Thurmond Jr. related to cases with conflicts of interest.
That agreement – which included the prosecution of a recent murder case – carried over into Weeks’ tenure, Pascoe said.
(Click to view)
(Via: S.C. Second Circuit Solicitor’s Office)
The problem? Neither Pascoe nor Weeks (above) appears to have cleared any of these referrals with the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson – the state’s independently elected top prosecutor.
The authority of the attorney general over prosecutions in South Carolina is enshrined in the state’s constitution. According to § 24 of this document (.pdf), “the attorney general shall be the chief prosecuting officer of the state with authority to supervise the prosecution of all criminal cases in courts of record.”
Cut and dried …
Furthermore, S.C. Code of Laws § 1-7-350 spells out the specific authority of the attorney general when it comes to assigning cases across the Palmetto State’s sixteen judicial circuits.
“The several solicitors of the state shall, within their respective circuits, in cooperation with, and as assigned by the attorney general, represent in all matters, both civil and criminal, all institutions, departments, and agencies of the state,” the statute reads. “Likewise in criminal matters outside their circuits, and in extradition proceedings in other states, they shall be subject to the call of the attorney general, who shall have the exclusive right, in his discretion, to so assign them in case of the incapacity of the local solicitor or otherwise.”
According to Wilson’s office, it has no record of a request from Pascoe to transfer either of these cases to Weeks.
“We have thoroughly searched our system and no such letter exists,” spokesman Robert Kittle told me.
Typically, solicitors will send letters to the attorney general informing him when they have a conflict of interest requiring them to recuse themselves. Sometimes, they will suggest a solicitor (often in a neighboring circuit) to stand in their stead.
Readers will recall this scenario played out (and continues to play out) to dramatic effect in the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ crime and corruption saga. I am referring, of course, to S.C. fourteenth circuit solicitor Duffie Stone – who demonstrated staggeringly bad judgment when he failed to immediately recuse himself from a double homicide investigation centering around a badge-carrying member of his office, Alex Murdaugh.
Once a recusal letter is submitted, it is up to the attorney general to decide whether to take the case himself or choose another solicitor to handle it. In the vast majority of cases, recusals and requests to transfer cases are approved without issue.
But if a request is never made?
“That is a big deal,” one prosecutor familiar with the process told me. “Once they strike a jury, double jeopardy attaches – and failure to follow proper constitutional protocol could result in cases getting dismissed.”
Count on this news outlet to keep track of this developing situation not only as it relates to the Bowen Turner case – but also the broader question of how prosecutorial conflicts of interest should be properly handled across the state.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that Minnesota Twins’ lid pictured above).
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