Solicitor faults Sheriff's Office on critical murder trial tape

fmcaden@islandpacket.com, mmcnab@islandpacket,comMay 11, 2014 

Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone emphatically disputed on Saturday statements made by Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner, who said Stone's office shares responsibility for mishandled evidence that derailed the murder case against three men accused of killing Khalil Singleton.

"Let me just say that I hope the sheriff was misinformed, and I believe that once he finishes his internal investigation he will know he was misinformed," Stone said.

In a story published Saturday in The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette, Tanner said the evidence -- a recording of dialogue between a deputy sheriff and one of the accused men -- Aaron Young Sr. -- was overlooked by both the Sheriff's Office and Stone's office during the year and a half the case was being prepared for trial. The recording ultimately surfaced on the day the trial was to begin, causing the judge to suddenly halt the proceedings.

When the trial resumes, the recording is expected to play a pivotal role in the defense of Young Sr. and perhaps his son, Aaron Young Jr.

The recording clearly shows that Young Sr. cooperated with investigators only because the deputy made promises to him that amounted to coercion, one of the defense lawyers says. When it can be shown that an accused person has been coerced, the state's case against them can be weakened.

Singleton, 8, was killed by a bullet that hit him in the torso during a gunfight between the Youngs and Tyrone Robinson on Sept. 1, 2012, on Allen Road on Hilton Head Island.

Tanner also said in Saturday's newspaper story that he will investigate why the recording wasn't given to the Solicitor's Office sooner, and will deal administratively with any lapses that occurred in his office. Tanner said he thought the solicitor would take the same steps.

Stone retorted that he has no reason to investigate or discipline anyone on his staff.

"I'm not taking any administrative action and I'm not going to conduct any type of investigation because I know what happened," Stone said. "I was there."

"We didn't overlook anything," Stone said. "We didn't overlook anything because we were not given that evidence."

"It's not possible to overlook something that you don't have," he said, saying the critical recording was never given to the Solicitor's Office by the Sheriff's Office.

Stone said he is disturbed the recording was not turned over earlier for several reasons:

  • All evidence, not just some, that's gathered by law enforcement is supposed to be turned over to prosecutors as quickly as possible.

  • The Solicitor's Office repeatedly requested all audio and video recordings made on devices mounted in deputies' patrol cars and microphones attached to the deputies themselves.

  • The particular recording that has altered the course of the murder trial had been electronically "tagged" by the Sheriff's Office soon after the fatal shooting -- as were several other similar recordings -- meaning that they were recognized by investigators as potential evidence that should be preserved. Most of the other recordings were turned over to the Solicitor's Office expeditiously. It is not clear why the critical recording was not.

  • Stone said he was ethically obligated to share the recording -- as soon as he was aware it existed -- with defense attorneys.

  • Stone described a meeting he and other prosecutors who were handling the case had three weeks before the trial was to begin. Two Sheriff's Office officials also attended: Capt. Bob Bromage, a senior investigator, and a Cpl. Evans, a road patrolman whose first name Tanner has declined to provide.

    Stone said that during the meeting an assistant solicitor, Hunter Swanson, asked Bromage and Evans to turn over any recordings that had been made by deputies on the day of the fatal shooting. Evans and Bromage acknowledged that there was one recording they still had, and Bromage said he would deliver it to the Solicitor's office quickly, according to Stone.

    The assistant solicitor "followed that up with a text to Capt. Bromage stressing how important it was that we had every piece of evidence," Stone said.

    But when the recording was delivered to the Solicitor's Office, it turned out to be only "a partial recording," Stone said. The rest was the portion that turned up the day trial was to begin, he said. That is the same portion of the recording that defense lawyers say shows Evans made coercive statements to Young Sr.

    The assistant solicitor told the officers during the meeting that "we need (the recording) and we need it now because we have to turn it over to the defense, Stone said. "...They then get us, apparently, part of the video," he said.

    In an interview Saturday night, Tanner said all the recordings from the day of the shooting were saved to an electronic system the Sheriff's Office uses, not burned to a compact disc as is normal procedure.

    Because the files weren't burnt to a disc, they weren't included in investigative files turned over to the Solicitor's Office, Tanner said. They remained on the system untouched until defense attorneys repeated their request for all evidence as the trial was getting underway on April 21. Then a search of the electronic system revealed the recordings.

    Tanner said the fact that the recordings were not copied to a disc or reviewed further was an oversight that is under review.

    Full recording, with guide, of Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office interview of Aaron Young Sr.

    Click quotes from the partial transcript below to hear that portion of the recording

    "You could save yourself, and your son, by telling us where the pistol is." — Cpl. Evans, 7:10

    "They can’t prove it wasn’t you without your gun to show that it wasn’t your bullet. ... If it didn’t come out of your barrel, you didn’t do it." — Cpl. Evans, 7:27

    "Without that gun, you’re not going to be able to prove you and your son innocent." — Cpl. Evans, 9:15

    "That wasn’t because of us. That was because of that man next door, Tyrone Robinson." — Aaron Young Sr., 10:38

    "If you shot at me at my own house, in my own yard, and at my own vehicle, then you got a death wish." — Aaron Young Sr., 11:24

    "We didn’t go down there to have a shootout at the OK Corral." — Aaron Young Sr., 19:01

    "I could believe that’s what did happen. ... What I said was true. That gun will save both you and your son’s life." — Cpl. Evans, 25:30

    "If (the bullet) doesn’t match the one that’s in that little boy, you’ve just proved that your son didn’t kill that kid." — Cpl. Evans, 26:12

    "If your story is true, which I think it is ... that gun will save you and your son’s life from going to jail the rest of your life." — Cpl. Evans, 27:34

    "You’ll probably be charged for shooting at Tyrone, but you didn’t kill that little boy so you’re not going to get charged with murder." — Cpl. Evans, 28:07

    "I don’t see what you would be worried about giving that gun up, because you know, in your heart, you were shooting at Tyrone and there’s no way you could’ve hit that boy back here." — Cpl. Evans, 29:29

    "That gun is your only saving grace. ... 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." — Cpl. Evans, 31:40

    "You know Tyrone ran off and dumped his gun, and you know he isn’t going to tell us where it is. He knows he did it. ... He’s got nothing to lose. You do, because you didn’t do it." — Cpl. Evans, 32:31

    "I need a lawyer for this one because I can’t trust you all. You’re trying to jail everybody." — Aaron Young Sr., 34:01

    Source: Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office recordings

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