Charges dropped against Bluffton man accused of killing neighbor

dburley@islandpacket.comSeptember 11, 2013 

FILE: William Moreland, accused of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Thomas L. Mullins Jr., consults with his attorney, Jim Brown, during a July 29, 2011, hearing at the Beaufort County Courthouse.

JAY KARR — Staff photo

A manslaughter charge against a Bluffton man who said he acted in self-defense when he shot his neighbor in 2010 has been dismissed, the S.C. Attorney General's Office said Wednesday.

The charge against William Shane Moreland was dismissed Aug. 23 because the state lacked evidence to prove Moreland did not act in self-defense, said Mark Powell, a spokesman for the attorney general's office.

Moreland, 33, was charged in the Nov. 19, 2010, shooting death of 50-year-old Thomas Mullins Jr., after a dispute in the Palmetto Pointe Townes neighborhood.

"There was no evidence that my client's use of force was unjustified," Jim Brown, Moreland's attorney, said Wednesday. Brown said Moreland would not comment on the case.

The state had no witnesses to prove the shooting was not self-defense, said Creighton Waters, who prosecuted the case. "There were only three witnesses to what happened -- the defendant, his girlfriend and the victim," he said. Marissa Maulden, the girlfriend, said in a statement that Moreland acted in self-defense.

Brown also represents Moreland in a civil suit filed last year against the Bluffton Police Department and the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office. Brown said that suit would move forward. It contends Moreland was falsely imprisoned for 11 days before law enforcement conducted an "adequate investigation." The suit seeks unspecified in damages.

Even after an investigation revealed that Moreland shot Mullins in what the suit calls self-defense, "the detention and incarceration of the defendant continued."

"The lawsuit is meant to address the wrong that's been done to him," Brown said.

Capt. Angela Tanner, spokeswoman for the Bluffton Police Department, said Wednesday the department does not comment on pending cases.

Attempts to reach a spokeswoman for the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Neither law enforcement agency had responded to the suit as of Wednesday evening, according to Beaufort County court records.

THE BACKGROUND

On the night of Nov. 19, 2010, Moreland called 911 to report he shot Mullins. The body was found in Moreland's front yard on Moonbeam Court, according to court records.

Moreland said Mullins threatened him and his girlfriend before coming over and banging on his front door about 9 p.m. Court records say there had been an "ongoing dispute" between the neighbors.

Moreland said he told Mullins to leave, according to court records. Moreland, armed with a handgun, then went outside through the garage door. Mullins approached him in an "aggressive and threatening manner" before Moreland fired, striking him once in the chest, according to court records.

Moreland was arrested at the scene and taken to the Beaufort County Detention Center.

Moreland spent 11 days in jail before he was released on bail. He's worked as a diesel mechanic since his release.

In a hearing in July 2011, Brown argued his client should be protected by the castle doctrine, which shields a person from trial for protecting his home.

However, Judge Thomas Cooper ruled that Moreland did not meet the requirements for the doctrine because there was no evidence Mullins tried to break into the house.

Moreland's case was then set for trial in the spring of 2012. But a "conflict" forced the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office to refer the case to the attorney general in August of 2012, Solicitor Duffie Stone said Wednesday.

"We studied the conflict and made that decision," Stone said. He declined to provide details of the conflict.

"I can't speak for them (the attorney general's office) on why they dropped it," Stone said. "There's no contact after we send the case up. It would defeat the purpose."

Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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