Last month, this news outlet lambasted South Carolina circuit court judge Heath Preston Taylor for a terrible call he made in connection with a recent bond hearing in Dorchester County.
I won’t belabor his error today, though …
Why not? Because Taylor did the right thing (and then some) in a high-profile case in Richland County on Friday (July 21, 2023) – prioritizing public safety and the rights of victims over those of a convicted rapist.
To recap: At around 4:00 a.m. EDT on May 4, 2021 – on the 2000 block of Greene Street near the University of South Carolina – then-39-year-old Robert S. Drayton broke into the apartment of a female college student. He proceeded to break his victim’s nose prior to strangling and sexually assaulting her as she bled from her face.
Miraculously, this remarkable young woman was able to fight Drayton off after approximately twenty minutes of hell – and then managed to flee from her apartment and find safety.
Drayton was identified from a surveillance video coming and going from the victim’s apartment complex – jumping a fence to enter the victim’s patio area and then fleeing from the scene of the assault. He was later seen wearing the shoes seen on the video surveillance – which matched shoe prints left at the scene. Drayton also ultimately admitted to being the individual seen on the surveillance video. Additionally, his DNA was found “in multiple places on the victim’s body – corroborating the sexual assault she endured at the hands,” according to a news release from the office of S.C. fifth circuit solicitor Byron Gipson.
On Friday, justice was served in this case. After only thirty minutes of deliberation, Drayton was convicted of first degree burglary, first degree criminal sexual conduct and kidnapping by a Richland County jury following a four-day trial.
It then fell to judge Taylor to impose a sentence.
“I don’t have the words for how depraved this crime was,” Taylor said. “I watched the (surveillance) video … it was despicable what you did to that young lady that night.”
Taylor said Drayton sought his victim out.
“This was a plan,” he said. “You didn’t just happenstance into her apartment and decide to sexually assault her. You made a plan … you’d been looking for her, following her. I don’t have the words.”
Taylor may have been unable to summon the words … but he was able to find the fortitude necessary to deliver the sentence justice required.
Taylor sentenced Drayton to life in prison without the possibility of parole – the maximum sentence allowable under the law. That’s right … a South Carolina judge went hard for a change, doling out an exceedingly strong sentence as opposed to a weaker one.
This sentence didn’t occur in a vacuum, either, as Taylor referenced a litany of prior charges against Drayton – including previous convictions for sexual assaults.
“You’ve had every opportunity to rehabilitate your yourself,” the judge told the convict. “So, I don’t think you deserve to be among the rest of us.”
(Click to view)
Judge Taylor isn’t the only one who deserves credit in this case, though.
Anna Browder, Stephanie Taylor and Dale Scott prosecuted this case for the fifth circuit. Law enforcement agencies assisting in bringing Drayton to justice included the city of Columbia police department, Richland County sheriff’s department, S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and the U.S. Marshals.
We cover a lot of cases like this in which everything goes wrong – a total system failure. In this case, everything that occurred – at least everything that occurred after this heinous attack – went exactly as it should.
First, this incredible young woman fought back – both during the assault and the trial, which featured her courageously taking the stand, identifying her assailant and describing the horrors he inflicted upon her. Not everyone has the strength to do that – and we obviously shouldn’t expect everyone to have that strength. But she did – and she deserves credit for that.
“This brave young woman was able to fight off the defendant,” solicitor Gipson said.
Taylor also praised the survivor of this assault as “an impressive and strong young lady.”
Beyond the courage and resolve of the victim, citizens helped police identify Drayton from the surveillance video – which enabled police to name him publicly as a suspect. From there, a Crimestoppers tip identified the dangerous criminal – leading to his apprehension and arrest by a multi-jurisdictional force. From there, the justice system did its job – with prosecutors securing a conviction and judge Taylor (literally) laying down the law.
Those of you who follow my news outlet know there is no shortage of spleen-venting about the Palmetto State’s notoriously corrupt court “justice” system – and the atrocious outcomes it all too often inflicts upon those it is supposed to protect.
Not this time, though …
This time, the system worked. This time, justice was served. And who knows … if the Palmetto State can start making outcomes like this the rule rather than the exception, maybe we can once again start relying on our justice system to do the vital job it must do if we hope to continue functioning as a free society.
THE RELEASE …
(Via: S.C. Fifth Circuit Solicitor)
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.
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