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Crime & Courts

Rose Petal Murder: Zachary Hughes’ Defense Team Fires Back

Battle over encrypted iPhone messages heats up …

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Attorneys representing accused killer Zachary David Hughes – the man charged in connection with the gruesome ‘Rose Petal Murder’ of 41-year-old Christina Parcell – have responded to a recent filing from prosecutors in the office of South Carolina thirteenth circuit solicitor Walt Wilkins.

Wilkins and his team filed a motion earlier this month seeking criminal contempt charges against Hughes in addition to the murder and weapons charges he is facing. Specifically, prosecutors asked for the court to impose an “active incarcerative sentence” on Hughes for his alleged “willful intent to deceive the court and to undermine the administration of justice.”

Prosecutors claim Hughes “intentionally attempted to mislead investigators by providing a bogus iPhone passcode with an accompanying fraudulent backstory for the creation of the bogus passcode” as they were attempting to unlock his Apple iPhone 8.

Hughes’ attorneys pushed back in a motion filed this week, saying that his family has been assisting him with meeting his financial obligations “prior to being caged in a cell” – including paying outstanding bills and stopping automatic drafts from his account for services he no longer uses. Hughes’ father has asked his son for the passwords for his accounts so he could manage those bills. But despite his best efforts, Hughes has not been able to recall the passwords his father requested.

An affidavit from Hughes’ father, David Hughes, was submitted as an exhibit.

A California native and graduate of the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City, Hughes is a classically trained concert pianist who studied and performed piano sonatas and concertos written by famed composer Ludwig van Beethoven. FITSNews published an expansive piece on his background just last month.

(Click to View)

Zachary Hughes/ YouTube

On the morning of October 13, 2021, Hughes is accused of traveling via bicycle to 122 Canebrake Drive in Greer, S.C. and savagely murdering Parcell, who worked as a technician at nearby Foothills Veterinary Hospital in Greenville, S.C.

The details of this crime scene were shocking – “disturbingly ritualistic,” according to our previous report. For starters, the killer allegedly sprinkled rose petals around Parcell’s body after dragging (and posing) her body in the front living room of a 2,100-square foot home owned by her sister, Tina Parcell.

“Rose petals were sprinkled around her body,” a source familiar with the killing told this news outlet. “She was dragged – there were drag marks. The scene was staged.”

Others cited the presence of multiple “deadheaded roses” around Parcell’s body.

Parcell’s cause of death was recorded by the Greenville county coroner’s office as a homicide due to “multiple sharp force injuries.” Specifically, Parcell “was brutally stabbed to death in her neck and head area,” sustaining “approximately 31 different stab wounds by a sharp object.”

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Parcell’s body was discovered shortly after 11:00 a.m. EST by her fiancee, Bradly Post – who has since been arrested (but not for Parcell’s murder).

During an April 6, 2022 court hearing, Wilkins indicated Hughes’ DNA had been found under Parcell’s fingers.

“The victim’s fingernails were processed for DNA, and the (result) conclusively shows that Zach Hughes’ DNA was under the fingernails of the victim,” Wilkins told S.C. circuit court judge Edward W. Miller.

A Ring camera from a home across the street also captured Hughes “dressed in a black hoodie and a backpack entering the front door” of Parcell’s home just before she was killed, according to Wilkins. Hughes was later seen on another Ring camera “leaving the subdivision on a bicycle” after Parcell’s murder, Wilkins said.

Hughes’ attorneys disputed the video evidence, claiming the clips cited by prosecutors “don’t show Zach.”

(Click to View)

Suspect leaving scene of Rose Petal Murder (Provided).

The ‘Rose Petal Murder’ – and its bizarre fallout – has rocked the socially conservative South Carolina Upstate. Less than a week after the murder, Post was arrested in connection with a child pornography investigation related to evidence obtained at the murder scene. He is currently facing five counts of sexual exploitation of a minor in the first degree, one count of sexual exploitation of a minor in the third degree, one count of third degree criminal sexual content with a minor, and one count of buggery.

All of those charges are pending – and are being prosecuted by the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson.

Post and Parcell (or rather, her estate) are also listed as defendants in two civil lawsuits – one brought on behalf of Parcell’s own daughter and the other brought on behalf of another minor female allegedly victimized by the couple.

There have also been reports of bestiality involving Post and Parcell – which would be consistent with the buggery charge against Post.

At the time of her murder, Parcell was involved in “an extremely contentious custody battle” with 62-year-old John Mello – her ex-boyfriend and the father of her young daughter. Mello and Hughes “are very close friends,” Wilkins said, and routinely used the encrypted smartphone application WhatsApp to communicate with each other. In fact, Mello and Hughes are said to have exchanged at least 1,769 encrypted WhatsApp messages.

In one conversation via WhatsApp on April 17, 2021, Mello – who is facing a custodial interference charge in connection with this case – indicated he had obtained Christina’s private number and instructed Hughes to use it to “harass the shit out of her.”

Authorities also uncovered numerous conversations between Mello and Zachary Hughes via WhatsApp between October 8 and October 13, 2021 – the day of Christina Parcell’s murder. On October 13, for example, there is a conversation in which Mello asked Hughes, “How did the music research go?”

“Good,” Hughes responded. “I’ll tell you over the phone.”

(Click to View)

(Graphic via Jenn Wood)

Hughes’ attorneys denied their client purposefully withheld his password – arguing the assumptions embedded in the state’s claim about him being too intelligent to forget it were “potentially offensive.”

“The state’s reliance on Zack’s intelligence actually makes it less likely, not more likely, that he would be able to remember the passcode, a fact he no longer needs to recall,” the motion noted.

Despite the alleged lack of cooperation from Hughes, his iPhone was unlocked on February 8, 2023 after nearly 700,000 attempts to crack its code, according to an affidavit from Greenville County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO) investigator Charlie Cunningham.

A source familiar with the ongoing extraction efforts from Hughes’ iPhone indicated investigators are making progress recovering its contents.

“Every time we download we find something new,” the source said.

Still, there are hundreds of WhatsApp messages they cannot access due to encryption. Hughes’ iPhone is reportedly in the hands of an expert who is attempting to access those messages, although it is believed many of the relevant communications “were deleted off the app in the phone.”

A hearing on the state’s contempt motion is likely to be scheduled sometime next month. Hughes’ trial is expected to begin in early 2024. Count on this news outlet to keep our readers in the loop on any new developments in the case.

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THE FILING …

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Jenn Wood (Provided)

Jenn Wood is FITSNews’ incomparable research director. She’s also the producer of the FITSFiles and Cheer Incorporated podcasts and leading expert on all things Murdaugh/ South Carolina justice. A former private investigator with a criminal justice degree, evildoers beware, Jenn Wood is far from your average journalist! A deep dive researcher with a passion for truth and a heart for victims, this mom of two is pretty much a superhero in FITSNews country. Did we mention she’s married to a rocket scientist? (Lucky guy!) Got a story idea or a tip for Jenn? Email her at jenn@fitsnews.com.

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