Recordings released Friday by the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office could support defense attorneys' claim that one of three men charged with 8-year-old Khalil Singleton's murder cooperated with investigators because they promised it would benefit him.
Responding to a Freedom of Information request from The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette, the Solicitor's Office released a 55-minute recording containing audio from a body microphone worn by a Beaufort County Sheriff's Office deputy and images from a dashboard camera parked outside the Sheriff's Office.
It remains unclear why the recordings surfaced only after a jury was seated and the trial was to begin.
The recording included audio from an interview with Aaron Young Sr., who is charged in the Sept. 1, 2012 murder.
Young Sr. is charged with Singleton's murder, as are his son, Aaron Young Jr., and Tyrone Robinson.
Robinson and the Youngs exchanged gunfire on Allen Road, just off Marshland Road. The prosecution says a bullet fired by Robinson hit Singleton as he played in his grandmother's front yard.
All three suspects were to be tried last month, but Circuit Court Judge Thomas Cooper postponed the trial after the recordings suddenly surfaced. Cooper determined that both the defense and prosecution needed more time to analyze the new evidence.
The recordings were presented in court April 22 after defense attorneys reiterated their request that all statements and interviews be turned over. The new recordings weren't included in the evidence defense attorneys originally received from the Solicitor's Office.
In the recording, Young Sr. is interviewed by a Cpl. Evans. Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner declined Friday to provide the deputy's first name. Much of the dialogue took place in an interrogation room at the Sheriff's Office on Shelter Cove Lane hours after Singleton's death.
Evans tried to convince Young Sr. to tell where his 9 mm pistol is. If Young Sr. helped investigators recover the gun, Evans told the suspect, it would help "save both you and your son's life."
At several points during the interview, Evans told Young Sr. that if he led authorities to the gun, they could prove it didn't fire the shot that killed Singleton.
"That gun is your only saving grace," Evans said. " . . . The bullet that came out of that gun won't match with the bullet that was in that boy. That would prove that you didn't commit murder."
In testimony April 21 before opening arguments, Young Sr. and his attorney, Robert Ferguson, claimed Young Sr. was coerced into helping investigators.
Young Sr.'s son had used the pistol to "Swiss-cheese" Robinson's Acura sedan, shooting it several times from the passenger seat of his father's Ford F-150. 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 him find the pistol.
Bromage's interview with Young Sr. was not included in the recording released Friday.
Dr. Amanda Salas, a forensic psychiatry expert for the defense, testified April 21 that she heard no coercive statements on recordings of interviews she had listened to. However, she had not heard the recording the Solicitor's Office released Friday that contains Cpl. Evans' statements.
And even though she hadn't heard those recording, she testified that certain factors -- the presence of three investigators and the fact Young Sr. was interviewed while shirtless -- led him to believe cooperation was his only way out.
The recordings "absolutely prove" that Young Sr. was coerced, defense attorney Roberts Vaux said Friday.
"You can't say you're not going to charge him with murder and turn around and charge him with murder," Vaux said. "The Youngs kept their side of it."
Vaux, who represents Aaron Young Jr. and previously represented Young Sr., said he will file a motion in the next two weeks arguing Young Jr. -- like his father -- was coerced to cooperate.
Ferguson, Young Sr.'s attorney, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Judge Cooper said April 23 that neither defense attorneys nor the Solicitor's Office was aware of the newly surfaced recordings until a day before the trial ended. Solicitor Duffie Stone gave the recordings to Cooper and defense attorneys once he was aware of their existence.
Stone declined to comment on the recordings Friday, saying he does not discuss pending cases.
Though it is unclear precisely what happened to bring the recordings to light, they were overlooked twice before the trial -- by both the Sheriff's Office and Solicitor's Office -- Sheriff P.J. Tanner said.
Tanner said 12 other recordings were given to the defense before the trial.
Those recordings were from several deputies, many of whom were involved in the initial investigation of the murder. Tanner said Evans and the other deputies' role was to move suspects to and from the interrogation room in the Hilton Head office.
Those tapes were entered into the Sheriff's Office electronic file system the night of Singleton's murder and electronically "tagged," meaning they would be saved in the system until being manually deleted. Files that aren't tagged are deleted from the system 45 days after being entered, a process that is now under review, Tanner said.
The recordings containing the dialogue between Cpl. Evans and Young Sr. were never reviewed, probably because investigators and prosecutors didn't think they had evidentiary value, Tanner said. He did not say how the recordings surfaced April 22.
"Some mistakes are made preparing evidence," he said. "These things do happen. It's unfortunate that it happened on this case."
Tanner said he was reviewing the oversight and would deal with it administratively "in the near future." He declined to say what he might do.
Tanner said he thought Stone would take similar administrative action.
The tapes' scuttled a trial that was a year and a half in the making.
Robinson and the Youngs will now be tried separately, something defense attorneys had asked for weeks before the original trial began.
No dates have been set for their cases, but a September trial date was proposed for Robinson, whose case is not believed to be affected by the tapes.
That could mean a trial for the Youngs could be several months to a year away.
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.
Full recording, with guide, of Beaufort County Sheriffs Office interview of Aaron Young Sr.
Click quotes from the partial transcript below to hear that portion of the recording