Judge orders mistrial in 2012 Bluffton robbery case

rlurye@islandpacket.comFebruary 28, 2014 

Testimony from a witness led a judge to declare a mistrial Friday in the case of a Bluffton man charged in the 2012 armed robbery of a Bluffton bank.

Prosecutors plan to retry Justin Williams, 26, in the coming months in connection with the robbery, in which he allegedly helped David Mack Jr., 26, rob a Palmetto State Bank branch, assistant solicitor Ben Shelton said Friday.

Williams' attorney, Donald Colongeli, said he called for a mistrial Thursday on the trial's fourth day after a witness told the jury that Williams had spoken to him about previous crimes while they were being held at the Beaufort County Detention Center.

The witness was only supposed to discuss the 2012 Bluffton bank robbery. However, Colongeli said an assistant solicitor knew the witness had knowledge of other alleged incidents and asked the man, "What else did (Williams) tell you?"

The witness began to speak of previous crimes Williams allegedly committed, Colongeli said.

"I moved right then and there for a mistrial," Colongeli said. "It wouldn't have given (Williams) a chance in hell for a fair trial."

Circuit Court Judge Diane Goodstein approved the mistrial motion Friday. Williams' sister and grandmother sat behind him in court Friday but declined to comment.

Williams and Mack are accused of grabbing the bank president in the parking lot of the branch off Bluffton Road before opening hours Jan. 19, 2012. Police say the suspects forced the president into the bank at gunpoint, then bound him with duct tape.

When the robbers could not get the safe opened, they ran away, taking about $100 from coin trays, police said.

Police found a BB gun, ski mask, a bag containing the coins, coveralls, the bank president's car keys and a bank video-surveillance tape discarded near the bank.

With the help of the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office, police matched DNA from the discarded items with a water bottle taken from Mack's home, police said.

Mack, arrested in February 2012, pleaded guilty the following October to armed robbery, kidnapping and the possession of a weapon in the commission of a violent crime. He also signed an agreement to give information and testimony, according to court records.

Mack, who was sentenced to nine years in federal prison, was called as a witness this week, though Colongeli said he gave his testimony with "a great degree of trepidation."

"It took five minutes for him to answer the first question and then nobody could hear him," Colongeli said.

At one point, he said, Colongeli asked Mack whether he had been bullied, intimidated or felt like his back was against the wall. The witness answered, "Yes," Colongeli said.

Colongeli said he believes that testimony weakened the case against Williams and prompted the prosecution to force a mistrial using the other inmate's testimony.

Shelton, the prosecutor, declined to comment on Mack's testimony. He added that the prosecution did not ask an improper question, but that the witness erred in his answer. He said the Solicitor's Office plans to retry Williams at the next available opportunity.

"The state is very confident in its case," Shelton said.

Williams is being held at the Beaufort County Detention Center, according to the jail log. Colongeli said he plans to file a motion next month to reduce Williams' $150,000 bond.

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

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