South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson is shutting down a second bid by powerful lawyer-legislator Todd Rutherford and S.C. fifth circuit solicitor Byron Gipson to negotiate an early release from prison for a gang leader and convicted killer.
The extralegal, unconstitutional release of Jeroid J. Price from the custody of the S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC) by retiring judge Casey Manning earlier this year sparked a statewide uproar – and compelled the S.C. supreme court to step in and vacate Manning’s order.
That decision made Price a fugitive from justice – at least until his belated capture on July 11, 2023.
In a terse letter to Gipson obtained by this media outlet, Wilson made it clear there will be no “take two” when it comes to springing Price from jail.
“This letter is to advise you that any motion to seek a sentence reduction in the Jeroid Price case is unauthorized without my personal approval,” Wilson wrote in his letter (.pdf), a copy of which was provided Rutherford, Price’s attorney and one of the most powerful lawyer-legislators in the S.C. General Assembly.
Wilson cited a controversial statute some judges have used as a way to evade mandatory minimum sentences, saying “the state does not consider it in the public interest that Price receive a reduction in sentence.”
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.”
While this statute would appear to be black-and-white, 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.
Frankly, I believe lawmakers should eliminate any confusion by stating explicitly that the latter section doesn’t apply to mandatory minimum sentences.
However the statute is interpreted, though, Wilson has laid down the gauntlet.
“As South Carolina’s chief prosecutor, I do not authorize any sentence reduction … unless I personally approve,” Wilson wrote.
Wilson’s move is exceedingly bold for two reasons. First, it is a clear shot at Rutherford – the state lawmaker who more than any other politician in South Carolina determines which judicial candidates wind up sitting on the bench. A lot of politicians have challenged Rutherford rhetorically in the past, but few have ever taken him on quite so directly. This letter? It represents a direct check on the insidious influence he has effortlessly effectuated for decades over South Carolina’s “justice” system.
Wilson’s move is also surprisingly bold as it relates to imposing his will on the sitting solicitor for the fifth circuit. Typically, the attorney general reserves decisions regarding cases to each of the state’s sixteen independently elected solicitors. In this case, however, he is basically telling Gipson to stand down and to refrain from entertaining a sentencing reduction motion in the Price case without his personal prior authorization.
RELATED | GRAND JURY CORRUPTION ALLEGED
That’s not a move Wilson often makes … but clearly he believed the circumstances in this case warrant such a preemptive strike.
Price, 43, hails from New York. He was a street leader in the Bloods gang who was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison for the 2002 murder of University of North Carolina football player Carl Smalls, who was affiliated with the rival Crips gang.
Price shot and killed Smalls in the early morning hours of December 7, 2002 following a dispute at a fraternity party at Club Voodoo in Columbia, S.C. A Richland County jury took only thirty minutes to convict him.
Incidentally, Price’s son – 23-year-old Jewayne M. Price – was charged last year in connection with a gang-related shooting at Columbiana Mall in northwest Columbia, S.C.
Jeroid Price’s 35-year sentence was handed down by former S.C. circuit court judge Reggie Lloyd. It was affirmed by the S.C. supreme court in 2006, meaning Price was supposed to remain behind bars until 2038 – consistent with South Carolina’s mandatory minimums.
According to S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC) spokeswoman Christi Shain, Price was being held in New Mexico as part of an “interstate cooperation compact.” He was previously held in numerous SCDC facilities – as well as a New York prison as part of another “interstate cooperation compact.”
Manning released Price from prison via a sealed order – without notifying Smalls’ family. That violated the victims’ bill of rights provision of the S.C. Constitution (Article I, Section 24).
According to that article, crime victims – notably Smalls’ parents – had 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.”
Wilson moved swiftly and decisively in response to Price’s extralegal release, pushing the supreme court to hear the case quickly and vacate the illegal, unconstitutional order – which it did.
THE LETTER …
(Via: S.C. Attorney General)
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.
WANNA SOUND OFF?
Got something you’d like to say in response to one of our articles? Or an issue you’d like to proactively address? We have an open microphone policy here at FITSNews! Submit your letter to the editor (or guest column) via email HERE. Got a tip for a story? CLICK HERE. Got a technical question or a glitch to report? CLICK HERE.