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South Carolina Victims’ Rights Rally: Is Real Judicial Reform Coming?

Victim to status quo: “Those people are nothing but nicely dressed criminals.”

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With the most recent arrest of accused South Carolina teen rapist Bowen Turner returning South Carolina’s revolving door criminal justice system to the headlines, a rally organized by the family members of his alleged victims – and several prominent victims’ advocates – met for the the third time on the front steps of the S.C. State House.

Two years ago, Turner controversially received probation after pleading guilty to simple assault tied to his June 2019 arrest on the charge of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree. Despite the 2019 charge being the third sexual assault charge leveled against Turner in a period of less than two years, he didn’t even have to register as a sex offender.

Turner was represented on his sexual assault charges by powerful S.C. Senate minority leader Brad Hutto. In fact, Hutto gained infamy when he slut-shamed one of Turner’s alleged victims.

Turner’s case has helped to expose multiple systemic flaws in South Carolina: The corrupt method of judicial appointment, the deference shown to powerful legislators (who do the appointing), unconscionably lenient bonds/ sentences from “woke” judges, a docket that moves at the speed of molasses – and a galling lack of transparency over the whole process.

On Saturday, March 9, 2024 Turner was involved in a collision in Florence County, resulting in five new charges being filed against him including: driving under the influence, open container, failure to wear a seatbelt, disorderly conduct.

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According to attorney Sarah Ford, one of the leaders of an energized victims’ rights movement in South Carolina, Turner’s probation “was recently revoked by the S.C. Department of Corrections and he will be going back to serve at least six months” of a suspended sentence.

Still, “these victims weren’t allowed to heal because justice wasn’t pursued in the first place.”

Ford has been a relentless advocate throughout the Turner saga, which has become a case study for the myriad of ways in which South Carolina fails victims of sexual assault and other violent crimes. This year’s rally featurted a new set of victims who unfortunately faced many of the same injustices suffered by Turner’s alleged victims – albeit under different circumstances.

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THE SMALLS FAMILY …

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.

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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.

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 their opportunity to be heard on the matter.

The decision to release Price – first exposed by this news outlet on April 17, 2023 – was made by retiring S.C. circuit court judge Casey Manning after his attorney (and S.C. House minority leader) Todd Rutherford entered into a secret agreement with fifth circuit solicitor Byron Gipson.

Rutherford argued this release was legally justified after Price provided “substantial assistance” to corrections officials in identifying and locating an escapee.

(Click to View)

(FITSNews/YouTube)

Small’s father, Carl Smalls Sr., disagreed, calling the release of his son’s killer an “absolute travesty of justice” which according to him “was brought to us by the unlawful firm of Gipson, Rutherford and Manning.”

Smalls called the incident “an embarrassment to the state of South Carolina and a black eye to the foundation of justice in this state.”

“We want to convey to everyone in the state that this isn’t just about us, the Smalls family,” Smalls said. “We move forward because we have to, life doesn’t stop for us. We come to your local precincts to seek justice, and often times we end up dealing with people with black robes and three piece suits on who have no idea what we are going through.”

“To them everything is about winning and losing and expanding their own power and prestige,” Smalls continued, accusing those in our criminal justice system of being “beholden to a criminal assistance system.”

“Those people are nothing but nicely dressed criminals,” he said.

(Click to View)

David Pascoe Promotes Judicial Reform at 2024 S.C. Victim's Rally
South Carolina first circuit solicitor David Pascoe addresses a victim’s rally in Columbia, S.C. on March 21, 2024. (Dylan Nolan/FITSNews)

Legislation intended to reform the South Carolina justice system is currently moving through the state house. First circuit Solicitor David Pascoe broke down the progress of the two judicial reform bills in an interview with FITSNews after the rally.

“So we have the two bills, one has already passed the Senate,” Pascoe said.

The Senate bill – S.1046 – was strong when it was introduced, according to Pascoe, but senators “watered it down” and “neutered” reforms. Specifically, they failed to make meaningful change to the Judicial Merit Selection Commission (JMSC) – a powerful, legislatively controlled panel that decides which judges appear before the legislature for election.

Pascoe said the Senate bill “puts as many as eight lawyer legislators on the JMSC – currently there are only four.”

“That’s not progress,” he said.

Pascoe was more hopeful about H. 5170 – a bill being advanced through the House of Representatives. And while he referred to himself as one of House speaker Murrell Smith‘s critics, he said the speaker “put his money where his mouth is” on this issue – calling the legislation currently under consideration in the House “a tremendous bill that is progress and reform.”

Numerous speakers including Ford and attorney general Alan Wilson emphasized the importance of state legislators appropriating additional money for crime victims after a federal funding shortfall threatens to dramatically reduce the budget of numerous victim’s advocacy groups who rely on the funds to operate.

“We’ve asked for funding, over $10 million, just as a stopgap until the Victims of Crime Act money replenishes, and it can come flowing back to the state of South Carolina.” Wilson said “I need your help as we advocate for that money to be replenished in our coffers.”

Wilson expressed his concern that without the requisite funding many of the organizations currently assisting crime victims will not exist come this time next year.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Via: Travis Bell)

Dylan Nolan is the director of special projects at FITSNews. He graduated from the Darla Moore school of business in 2021 with an accounting degree. Got a tip or story idea for Dylan? Email him here. You can also engage him socially @DNolan2000.

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1 comment

Squishy123 (the original) March 22, 2024 at 6:43 pm

You can blame Todd Rutherford for these people getting out before the police reports are completed. As a politician he votes for the judges he wants and writes and votes for the bills that will benefit him as a lawyer. As a lawyer he’ll say and do anything to get his clients out of jail as long as they can pay his legal fees. Rutherford could give a shit what they do when they get back out, his law firm benefits from repeat business.

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