A key witness has stopped cooperating with Beaufort County investigators after they asked him to explain the jail-house phone conversation that torpedoed a case against two teens acquitted last week in a 2008 attack on two Bluffton men.
A plea deal with witness Kuwan A. Fields is in jeopardy after a family court judge said his testimony against Harry C. Battle and Theophilus D. Hamilton was not believable.
According to a transcript of the phone conversation provided to The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette on Tuesday by Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner, Fields told the man he was talking to that someone named Jason "was supposed to be ... on the front page with me" in a news article about the attack.
Defense attorneys said that reference indicated someone other than their clients were involved in the Oct. 30, 2008, attack on Brian Lanese and Jeffery Wooten as the two men grilled steaks in the backyard of Lanese's Windy Lakes home.
Authorities believe "Jason" is Fields' cousin, Jason Grant. They want to question him about the phone call, too, but have not been able to locate him, Tanner said Tuesday.
Tanner added that Fields and his attorney, Beaufort County public defender Matthew Walker, have been given transcripts of the profanity-laced call Fields made to another of his cousins, Darryl Richardson, from the Beaufort County Detention Center on Sept. 8, 2009.
Fields now refuses to answer questions about the phone call, Tanner said.
"We can't explain that statement, but Fields can," Tanner said Tuesday. "He is not cooperating, and his attorney told him not to cooperate. Why would his attorney advise him not to talk? Fields should be talking to law enforcement and explaining it. It's a difference between six and 15 years."
Attempts to reach Walker for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Richardson has been contacted by investigators but said "he didn't remember the call and he didn't want to get involved," according to Cpl. Louis Novak, who is leading the Sheriff's Office investigation.
Richardson referred further questions to his attorney, Tanner said.
Attempts Tuesday to reach Richardson for comment were unsuccessful.
A THEORY DESTROYED
Family Court Judge Robert Armstrong, who said the "Jason" phone call damaged Fields' credibility, acquitted Battle and Hamilton Aug. 10 on charges of burglary, criminal conspiracy and assault with intent to kill.
Fields pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary and testified against Battle and Hamilton in exchange for a sentencing recommendation of no more than six years.
After the verdict, 14th Circuit Court Solicitor Duffie Stone said that deal was off the table because the phone recording -- which prosecutors heard for the first time during the trial -- indicated Fields had not been completely forthcoming with investigators.
Bluffton attorney Greg Galvin, who represented Battle, discovered the phone call after listening to recordings of every call Fields made from the jail since his arrest in November 2008, said Scott Lee, the Beaufort attorney representing Hamilton.
About a week before the trial, Lee said the attorneys subpoenaed Fields' calls from the detention center -- nearly 18 hours of audio recordings."There's no way to know for sure who he's talking about, but he is pointing to someone else," Lee said Tuesday. "If he's now saying there's someone else involved -- it destroys their theory that Battle, Hamilton and Fields acted alone."Fields and other witnesses said he had been at a bonfire near his grandmother's house with his cousins -- Jordan Dupont, Derek Dupont, and Grant -- shortly before the beating that nearly killed Lanese occurred.Novak said Tuesday none of the three were ever suspects in the attack.
Tanner said Fields called Grant from jail last week, a day after Armstrong's verdict.
In a recording of that call made by investigators monitoring the conversation, Grant told Fields that he saw his name in newspaper articles about the trial and the phone call.
He asked Fields how his name was brought into the situation, according to the Sheriff's Office recording.
Fields told Grant that he told investigators everything he knew about that night and that he "wouldn't have said" anything about Grant.
Tanner said he still did not know if the phone call definitively implicated a fourth person in the incident. He said he believes investigators arrested and charged the correct suspects.
"If someone comes forward and gives us new information, we'll investigate it," Tanner said.