Decision on charges against Bluffton tow-truck driver expected soon

astice@islandpacket.comFebruary 1, 2012 

Preston Oates walks into the courtroom during his bond hearing at the Beaufort County Courthouse Thursday afternoon.

JONATHAN DYER, THE BEAUFORT GAZETTE

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A judge will rule shortly on whether manslaughter and weapons charges against Preston Oates, a tow-truck driver accused of fatally shooting a Bluffton man on Christmas Eve 2010, will be dismissed on the grounds of self-defense.

Circuit Court Judge Markley Dennis Jr. has been weighing arguments and evidence since a Nov. 17 pre-trial hearing, during which Oates' attorneys argued the state's "Castle Doctrine" gave him the right to shoot Carlos Olivera, 34, during a parking dispute.

His ruling is expected in the next couple of weeks, according to his law clerk, Julie Craig.

Fourteenth Judicial Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone said his office submitted an order Tuesday asking Dennis to uphold the charges.

The defense attorneys' order-- making the case that Oates should be immune from prosecution because he acted in self defense -- was turned in last week, Oates' attorney Don Colongeli said.

Both attorneys said they wouldn't be surprised if Dennis orders another hearing before making a decision. Craig would not comment on that possibility.

The judge could hold a hearing to issue the ruling or release the decision directly to attorneys. The decision also could be appealed by either side.

"It is up to him to sign (one of the orders) or call us together for another hearing or take the orders and write his own," Stone said. "He is well-versed in this case."Dennis called the decision "a nightmare" at the Nov. 17 hearing.

The central question is conflicting evidence over whether the argument between Oates and Olivera stemming from a booted minivan had ended when Oates fired.

Defense attorneys said Olivera threatened Oates, brandished a handgun that had been tucked in his waistband and forced him to get out of his tow truck. Olivera still posed a threat when Oates fired, they said.

Stone argues that based on Olivera's six gunshot wounds -- in the back and the back of the neck -- the fight was over and Olivera was walking away.

Therefore, the Castle Doctrine, intended to protect people from attacks in their homes, workplaces and vehicles, does not apply, Stone argued.

Prosecutors want to receive the ruling before proceeding with charges against Oates for allegedly attempting to break out of his jail cell by sawing at unbreakable glass with part of a light fixture, Stone has said.

Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/LCBlotter.

Related content

  1. Hilton Head Island towing ordinance revisited, Jan. 9, 2012
  2. Judge weighs evidence in hearing for tow-truck driver accused of manslaughter, Nov. 17, 2011
  3. Oates' defense seeks dismissal of manslaughter charge; Bluffton tow-truck driver acted in self defense in fatal Christmas Eve shooting, they argue, Oct. 5, 2011
  4. Suspect in Bluffton Christmas Eve fatal shooting freed on bond, Aug. 31, 2011
  5. Oates on suicide watch, ordered 60 days of seclusion after jail-break attempt, March 29, 2011
  6. Bluffton tow-truck driver fails in attempt to break out of jail, March 22, 2011

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