Second trial finds Bluffton man not guilty of 2012 bank robbery

rlurye@islandpacket.comMay 22, 2014 

A Bluffton man was found not guilty Thursday of a 2012 bank robbery after a witness said he was pressured to testify, the defendant's attorney said.

The jury's decision came on the fourth day of 26-year-old Justin Williams' retrial on charges of kidnapping and armed robbery.

Williams was accused of helping David Mack Jr., 26, rob a Palmetto State Bank branch in Bluffton, but Mack said Thursday he testified because he "felt as if he had a gun to his head," defense attorney Don Colongeli said after the trial.

Williams was accused of helping Mack grab the bank's president in the parking lot of the Bluffton Road branch Jan. 19, 2012, forcing him inside at gunpoint and binding him with duct tape. The robbers ran away when they could not open the safe, taking about $100 in coins with them.

Attempts to reach the prosecutor Thursday afternoon were unsuccessful, and Daniel Brownstein, spokesman for the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office, declined to comment in detail about the trial.

"We recognize that it was a difficult case and respect the jury's decision," Brownstein said.

The ruling came nearly three months after Williams' first trial, in which Mack, a former Bluffton resident, expressed similar reservations about testifying.

Mack pleaded guilty in federal court in October 2012 to armed robbery, kidnapping and the possession of a weapon in the commission of a violent crime. Mack also signed an agreement to give information and testimony, according to court records. He is serving a nine-year term in a federal prison.

During Williams' first trial, Mack mumbled his answers and responded affirmatively when asked if he had been bullied into taking the stand, Colongeli said. The attorney called for a mistrial after another witness erred by saying he had knowledge of Williams' past crimes. The witness, Austin Mandikas, who was an inmate with Williams at the Beaufort County Detention Center, was only supposed to speak about the 2012 armed robbery, Colongeli said.

Mandikas was not called to court this week, he said.

Colongeli said the Solicitor's Office was "overreaching and overzealous" in prosecuting Williams, who has spent more than two years in jail. Prosecutors did not have the physical evidence to back up their case, he said.

"Justice has been served," Colongeli said.

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

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