Oates defense forgoes appeal; case moves closer to trial

rlurye@islandpacket.comOctober 2, 2013 

Preston Oates

STAFF PHOTO

Lawyers for Preston Oates, a tow-truck driver accused of killing a Bluffton resident on Christmas Eve 2010, say they won't file another pretrial appeal, clearing the long-delayed case to move forward.

Oates' attorneys asked that manslaughter charges against their client be dropped under the state's Castle Doctrine, which spares defendants from prosecution if they killed someone while defending themselves or others in their home, workplace or vehicle.

A judge denied the request, but Oates' trial has been delayed while his lawyers appealed that decision. However, before their appeal was heard, the S.C. Supreme Court ruled such appeals should come only after the defendant stands charges.

The S.C. Court of Appeals then dismissed Oates' appeal on Aug. 21.

Fourteenth Judicial Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone has said he thought the Supreme Court's ruling might still allow Oates' lawyers to appeal directly to the high court, arguing "exceptional" or "extraordinary" circumstances.

Defense laywer Don Colongeli said that, indeed, Oates' situation qualifies for such consideration; however, the defense team ultimately decided to forgo a writ of appeal.

One of the main concerns, Colongeli said, is that it would do his financially strapped client more harm than good to delay the trial further.

"We were really hoping his would be the seminal case for them to make a decision," he said. "But you have to weigh a number of things, and the most important is the best interests of the client.

"And he has been financially completely drained."

Oates is charged in the Christmas Eve 2010 killing of 34-year-old Bluffton resident Carlos Olivera following an argument that broke out as Oates tried to boot the man's van.

Oates and other defendants settled a lawsuit with Olivera's widow for $1.75 million in August. It's not clear how much money, if any, came from Oates.

The 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor's Office plans to try Oates late this year or early in 2014, office spokesman Daniel Brownstein said.

Colongeli said a jury should find Oates acted in self-defense when he shot Olivera.

"I think justice will prevail," he said.

The Solicitor's Office, however, has argued that Olivera posed no threat to Oates.

According to Beaufort County Sheriff's Office reports, both men were armed, but Olivera never fired his weapon. Oates shot Olivera six times, the report said.

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

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