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Crime & Courts

South Carolina’s ‘Injustice’ System Strikes Yet Again

Convicted killer released fifteen years early …

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Shortly after 2:00 a.m. EST on the morning of December 7, 2002, an Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity party at Club Voodoo in Columbia, South Carolina was just winding down …

As money collected from the event was being counted, members of two rival gangs – the Bloods and the Crips – engaged in a dispute that devolved into name-calling. A scuffle ensued, and after the melee then-22-year-old Jeroid J. Price of New York – a Bloods street leader – shot and killed 22-year-old Carl Smalls of Charleston.

Smalls was shot in the chest, stomach and hip – with a witness named Marcus Jones identifying Price as the man who fired the two fatal shots at Smalls as he was lying wounded on the ground. Another suspect, then-19-year-old Ryan Brooks, was also arrested for firing a non-fatal shot that struck Smalls.

At the time of his murder, Smalls played football at the University of North Carolina. He was also affiliated with the Crips.

A Richland County jury convicted Price of murder on December 20, 2003 – needing only thirty minutes to deliberate. Price’s conviction was upheld by the S.C. supreme court on April 17, 2006. The court’s appellate review was significant, as Price’s conviction had been challenged on the basis of the admissibility of testimony related to his gang affiliation.

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His 35-year prison sentence – handed down by former S.C. circuit court judge Reggie Lloyd – was affirmed, meaning Price was supposed to remain behind bars until 2038, consistent with South Carolina’s mandatory minimums on murder convictions.

Under S.C. Code of Laws § 16-3-20 (A), “no person sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment for thirty years to life pursuant to this section is eligible for parole or any early release program, nor is the person eligible to receive any work credits, education credits, good conduct credits, or any other credits that would reduce the mandatory minimum term of imprisonment for thirty years to life required by this section.”

Hence the term “mandatory minimum.”

On March 15, 2023, however, Price was released from prison with fifteen years remaining on his sentence. No prior notification was provided to Smalls’ family – who were thus denied of their opportunity to be heard on the matter.

The decision to release Price was made by S.C. circuit court judge Casey Manning – who is retiring this year.

What, exactly, gave Manning the authority to circumvent this law?

Good question. According to multiple sources familiar with the judge’s order, it has been placed under seal.

How convenient, right?

S.C. Code of Laws § 17-25-65 allows judges to reduce sentences for inmates who provide “substantial assistance to the state” - although there is significant debate over whether these reductions should apply to mandatory minimum sentences. Among the categories of assistance enumerated under the law is “aid” to any S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC) “employee or volunteer who was in danger of being seriously injured or killed” during riots or other violent incidents behind bars.

Of interest, though? Price was not housed in a SCDC facility at the time of his release. According to SCDC spokeswoman Christi Shain, he was released from a facility in New Mexico where he was being housed as part of an "interstate cooperation compact.”

Price had been housed in New Mexico since November 2020, according to his SCDC rap sheet (.pdf).

S.C. first circuit solicitor David Pascoe - who prosecuted Price’s murder case in 2003 as an assistant solicitor in the fifth judicial circuit - was livid with the decision.

"I’m going to do everything in my power to find out why this defendant was released after serving only 19 years on a murder sentence, why the victims were not notified and why this order is sealed,” Pascoe said. "I have no comment at this time regarding Mr. Price’s lawyer-legislator attorney or the judge who signed his release papers.”

According to Pascoe, Smalls’ family was not notified of Price’s release until the day it happened.

This is not the first time a South Carolina circuit court judge has pulled something like this on their way out of office.

(Click to View)

DeAndrea Benjamin (U.S. Senate judiciary committee)

Last April, DeAndrea Benjamin – wife of former Columbia, S.C. mayor Steve Benjamin - reduced convicted murderer Dushon Staten’s thirty-year sentence by two years for purportedly giving officers at SCDC “substantial assistance during active incidents” behind bars.

Benjamin was narrowly elected to the U.S. fourth circuit court of appeals in February after her husband raised big dollars for powerful U.S. minority whip Jim Clyburn - the man who delivered early-voting South Carolina to U.S. president Joe Biden in 2020, resurrecting the latter’s moribund presidential candidacy.

As usual, it is never about justice in South Carolina ... it is always about politics.

As I noted the last time this happened, "mandatory minimums should be mandatory … no exceptions.”

Otherwise, we had better start calling them something else.

I reached out to Price’s attorney - S.C. House minority leader Todd Rutherford - to get his thoughts on the situation.

Rutherford told me he would love to discuss the case - but said Manning’s sealed order precluded him from doing so. Generally speaking, Rutherford believes judges in South Carolina have the authority to "go under” mandatory minimums based on the statute invoked by Benjamin in the Staten case.

"Nothing happens in a vacuum,” Rutherford told me, again speaking generally as it relates to the statute. "There has to be something hugely significant.”

(Click to View)

S.C. House minority leader Todd Rutherford (Will Folks/ FITSNews)

Attorneys like Rutherford have argued the “substantial assistance” statute – passed by lawmakers in 2010 – supersedes the mandatory minimum murder sentence. Prosecutors I spoke with disagreed, however.

“For it to be a superseding statute, it needs to directly address the code section which mandates people guilty of murder must do no less than thirty years,” one prosecutor told me.

In other words, the 2010 statute does not apply to “mandatory minimums.”

Given the fact this order has been sealed - and no one is talking - I have no idea what Price purportedly did to earn his freedom. Perhaps there is a compelling argument to be made on his behalf - although I would argue any such discussion should have been had in public with the family of the man he murdered present and able to

In fact, I was under the assumption the S.C. Constitution (Article I, Section 24) specifically forbade crime victims from being ambushed like this - expressly affording them the right "to be informed of any proceeding when any post-conviction action is being considered, and be present at any post-conviction hearing involving a post-conviction release decision.”

Those rights were trampled on in this case ... which, sadly, is also par for the course in the Palmetto State.

The real problem? South Carolina judges - and the powerful lawyer-legislators who appoint them - keep looking for loopholes to make life easier for violent criminals when they should be strengthening statutes, raising bond amounts and imposing harsher sentences.

And we wonder why violent crime is skyrocketing?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR ...

Will Folks on phone
Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

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.

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8 comments

SubZeroIQ April 17, 2023 at 8:30 pm

Just when I was about to respect you, Will Folks, you go and do this! And predictably, you hit two black judges with one stone. Your stone this time added a black lawyer-legislator who (apparently you forgot that) often works closely with your own pro bono lawyer, Pete Strom. The order about which you complain is sealed FOR A REASON and would not have happened without the Department of Corrections’ own request (or at least acquiescence). The cooperation given by the inmate must remain confidential to have any effect. Opening the hearing so that the Great Santini could give his blessing would have defeated the purpose and endangered the very people the inmate’s cooperation protected. Is that what you want? I told you before: the Republicans’ solution of every problem by throwing prisons at it is no better than the Democrats’ solution of every problem by throwing money at it. Capice?

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jbl1a April 18, 2023 at 9:01 am

Everyone seems to agree the broken SC judicial system includes the judges on the bench as well as the lawyer/legislators that help put them there, everyone except those legislators. They think it is a great system. And Benjamin seemed to have a habit of releasing violent criminals on low bond only for them to do the same again. They only think the bond is the problem…..

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SubZeroIQ April 23, 2023 at 11:53 am

Continuing to Emperor FITS, or should I say “Caesar FITS” or “Kaizar FITS” since Will Folks is SLOWLY graduating from a baseball cap worn backwards and indoors to a mere bandana to evoke Caesar’s laurel?
I detour for a little education. Before the Enlightment’s thinking of the Social Contract which inspired the American Revolution and the U.S. Constitution, Caesar had both Executive and Judicial powers. Remeber? Saint Paul’s travel to Rome was to pro se (meaning for himself WITHOUT A LAWYER) complain to Caesar about the 40-minus-1 flogs Saul of Tarsus had received despite being a Roman citizen. Those days, Caesar was both an administrator and a judge.
Apparently, Kaisar FITS wants South Carolina’s governor (with a privy counsel of prosecutors and sheriffs) to be a latter-day Nero-and-King-Henry rolled into one.
And another detour, where were all those prosecutors and sheriffs (whom Caesar FITS wants ruling us) when the gangs exploded in the region to where they even controlled the receipts of dance parties? What powers or funds did North and South Carolina’s (or Georgia’s for that matter) lack 30 years ago for them to ignore the emerging gang proliferation and culture?
Those sheriffs and solicitors lacked no funds or powers. What they lacked was ETHICAL motivation. Why do real work if they can be lazy and blame someone else for what is left undone? Why nip a problem in the bud if they can let it fester and use it to clamor for more money with which to make patronage appointments?
Case in point: my old friend Sara Heather Savitz Weiss before we even were FORMALLY on opposite sides of Judges Childs’, Tommy Cooper’s, James’ and Clifton Newman’s courtrooms and I, thank God, ultimately prevailed WITHOUT A LAWYER. A then-child, Horace Taylor, was shot in a football game.
Heather Weiss, who pretended to SC’s Judicial Merit Selection Commission (during Heather Weiss’ failed bid for a judgeship for herself) that she always “want[s] to know the whole story,” knew that Horace Taylor, whom Weiss dubbed “bloody Horace” was being recruited for a gang and Weiss adopted Horace as “a victim of [hers],” according to a State Newspaper report, and apparently prosecuted (or not) Horace’s shooter.
What did Weiss do with her adopted victim? Place him in a witness protection program? Find some useful trade education for him? Connect him to legitimate anti-gang program? NONE OF THE ABOVE. What Weiss did “for” then-teen-aged Horace Taylor is threaten his mother, Bridgett Taylor, with eviction from her Habitat-for-Humanity house if she did not kick Horace out her house. Great idea, right? Kick the teen-ager out of his mother’s house. Where else would that homeless teen-ager go but to the arms of the very gangs which had shot him to make him join?
Not enough bad decisions? Leon Lott’s “forces” LITERALLY later smoke-bombed Bridgett Taylor’s house while looking for Horace. See Taylor v. Lott, 2017CP4003166 and 2020-000589 to be, God willing, argued 1 May 2023 before South Carolina’s Court of Appeals.
So, make no mistake about it: The Solicitors-Sheriffs Junta Kaizar FITS wants ruling us will not make us safe from gangs or from anyone else. They will add our exposure to the militarized tyranny of that Junta itself.
We need MORE, not less, judges like Judge Manning, who had the sense AND COURAGE to quietly do something that COULD effectively break the cycle of gang violence.
And again, I cannot take from Will Folks my appreciation for his (hopefully genuine) anti-hawks stance; but I need to ask him: if you oppose unnecessary U.S. involvement in overseas wars, why do you want South Carolina LITERALLY militarized against gangs when there are more effective but less flamboyant solutions?

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SubZeroIQ April 23, 2023 at 3:10 pm

FITS, I think I have the perfect solution for your intractable baldness-denial and your self-hatred of your melon-shaped head: wear a yarmulke; but do so with reverence to an ever-present God. That will cure both your outer and inner images. God bless.

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SubZeroIQ April 24, 2023 at 1:27 pm

Will Folks was angling to replace the departing Tucker Carlson at FOX News and found inciting a mob against the African-American Judge Manning a good audition for Rupert Murdock in a perverse imitation of Johan Sebastiann Bach submitting six compositions to the Margrave of Brandenburg. But wait: would FOX News want to pay another 787 million if it were to hire Will Folks and Judge Manning and/or Dr. Erin Presnell were to sue FOX News? In South Carolina, statements to the effect that one is incompetent in one’s profession and/or has a reputation for dishonesty and/or committed a crime are DEFAMATORY PER SE. And the U.S. Supreme Court might soon reconsider (and South Carolina’s supreme court is currently reconsidering) who is a public figure for defamation suit purposes. Perhaps FOX News is safer choosing ME to replace Tucker Carlson rather than Will Folks. At least I won’t use FOIAs to cowardly throw holders of the ORDER OF THE PALMETTO under the bus. Not that I am auditioning. Peace!

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SubZeroIQ April 27, 2023 at 12:35 pm

I get it: A ploy to get Byron Gipson removed and have Heather Savitz Weiss OR John Meadors installed as interim 5th Circuit Solicitor. After all, Heather Weiss did get appointed interim 5th Circuit Solicitor after Dan Johnson (a Leon Lott trainee, let’s not forget that) was brought down. Heather immediately hired Knox McMahon as a deputy solicitor and HE failed to get a conviction in the only jury trial he conducted in that capacity. Heather also REPORTEDLY made racist remarks during her tenure and roiled most staff in that office. But Heather Weiss and John Meadors always wanted the 5th Circuit Solicitorship and could not get through the ballot box. If I were Todd Rutherford, and I am NOT a lawyer, I would run to federal court and seek habeas for Jeroid Price. There are published opinions, by no less than Dennis Wayne Shedd when he was on the 4th Circuit, to the effect that the government cannot get the benefit of a defendant’s cooperation yet reneg on the promised sentence reduction. It really is now a death sentence for Jeroid John Price and it MIGHT, God forbid, trigger new fighting between the Crips and the Bloods; and Leon Lott will be firing off letters wanting more money to “fight” that fighting. John Williamson Kittredge KNEW he would be sending Jeroid John Price to his death because Kittredge acknowledged that in oral argument. Kittredge then will use that in his upcoming “succession” fight for chief justice. On this, I’d rather be wrong than come back with “I told you so”; but time will tell.

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SubZeroIQ April 27, 2023 at 12:36 pm

It’s a ploy to get Byron Gipson removed and have Heather Savitz Weiss OR John Meadors installed as interim 5th Circuit Solicitor. After all, Heather Weiss did get appointed interim 5th Circuit Solicitor after Dan Johnson (a Leon Lott trainee, let’s not forget that) was brought down. Heather immediately hired Knox McMahon as a deputy solicitor and HE failed to get a conviction in the only jury trial he conducted in that capacity. Heather also REPORTEDLY made racist remarks during her tenure and roiled most staff in that office. But Heather Weiss and John Meadors always wanted the 5th Circuit Solicitorship and could not get through the ballot box. If I were Todd Rutherford, and I am NOT a lawyer, I would run to federal court and seek habeas for Jeroid Price. There are published opinions, by no less than Dennis Wayne Shedd when he was on the 4th Circuit, to the effect that the government cannot get the benefit of a defendant’s cooperation yet reneg on the promised sentence reduction. It really is now a death sentence for Jeroid John Price and it MIGHT, God forbid, trigger new fighting between the Crips and the Bloods; and Leon Lott will be firing off letters wanting more money to “fight” that fighting. John Williamson Kittredge KNEW he would be sending Jeroid John Price to his death because Kittredge acknowledged that in oral argument. Kittredge then will use that in his upcoming “succession” fight for chief justice. On this, I’d rather be wrong than come back with “I told you so”; but time will tell.

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SubZeroIQ May 2, 2023 at 8:28 am

Let me a tell you a true 1987 Arizona story with real names so you can fact-check it. Daniel Wayne Cook and John Eugene Matzke stole the money of their working-stiff roommate Carlos Cruz-Ramos then tortured and sodomized him and finally savagely killed him. When then-16-year-old dishwasher Kevin Swaney happened on Cruz-Ramos’ dead body, Cook and Matzke tortured, raped and killed Swaney, too. Both killers confessed. Matzke testified against Cook, got 20 years, and was ACTUALLY REALEASED in 2007. Cook was executed in 2012 after exhausting all appeals. Moral of the story? For any criminal prosecution system to work, informants and even co-defendant are given shorter sentences if they testify against their accomplices, however heinous the crime. C’est la vie.

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