Start of Singleton murder trial delayed as new evidence emerges

mmcnab@beaufortgazette.comApril 22, 2014 

A judge overseeing the trial of three men charged with the murder of an 8-year-old Hilton Head Island boy delayed the trial a day so new evidence can be reviewed to help determine whether jurors can be told about statements one of the three defendants made to investigators.

Judge Thomas Cooper postponed a decision Tuesday on whether statements by Aaron Young Sr. to Beaufort County Sheriff's Office investigators are admissible. Young Sr. made the statements after he was arrested a few hours following Khalil Singleton's death on Sept. 1, 2012. The new evidence that apparently could have a bearing on the judge's decision surfaced Tuesday, but was not discussed in open court. No information was given about the nature of the new evidence.

Young Sr. and a forensic psychiatry expert who spoke at a pretrial hearing Monday contend he was coerced into helping the Sheriff's Office recover a weapon used by his son, Aaron Young Jr., to shoot at a car owned by Tyrone Robinson.

Robinson and the Youngs are all charged with the murder of Singleton, who was fatally wounded in crossfire between the Youngs and Robinson while he played outside his grandmother's Allen Road home, authorities have said.

Cooper is expected to make a decision on the admissibility of Young Sr.'s statements before the trial resumes at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in Beaufort County Circuit Court.

On Monday, Aaron Young Sr. testified that Capt. Bob Bromage of the Sheriff's Office told him that he and his son would be "exonerated and made star witnesses" in a case against Robinson if he helped them recover a 9 mm pistol his son used to shoot at Robinson's parked car on Allen Road. Bromage told Young Sr. that if he did not comply, he would face lengthy jail time, according to Young Sr.

On the day of the shooting, Young Sr. and Young Jr. went to Robinson's home on Allen Road after an argument earlier in the day between Young Jr. and Robinson, according to authorities. The earlier argument occurred on Wild Horse Road, where the Youngs lived. The two Youngs then drove to Robinson's home on Allen Road, where Young Jr. shot holes in Robinson's car. Robinson fired back at the Youngs as they drove away, according to authorities.

One of the shots struck Singleton in the torso, according to authorities. Britney Brinson, a nurse who is Singleton's second cousin, tried to revive Singleton, but he later died at Hilton Head Hospital.

Dr. Amanda Salas, a forensic psychiatry expert for the defense, testified Monday that factors like the presence of three investigators and Aaron Young Sr. being interviewed while shirtless led him to believe he should cooperate.

On Tuesday, the judge denied Robinson's request to prevent Sheriff's Office interview tapes with a man named Jontu Singleton and a second witness from becoming evidence in the trial. Singleton was Robinson's accomplice in an August 2012 pawn shop robbery, according to authorities. Singleton and the other witness were questioned by authorities after the fatal shooting.

Robinson, who is representing himself in the trial, argued that the tapes were hearsay under South Carolina law because the two witnesses had not seen him with a gun or seen him fire a gun.

Cooper ruled that the two tapes fell under the "excited utterance" hearsay exception, because the statements were made after a startling event -- Khalil Singleton's shooting.

Cooper briefly called in the jury before delaying the trial Tuesday. He told the seven women, five men and two alternates why he was delaying the trial and asked them to return Wednesday morning.

Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.

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