The case against a tow-truck driver accused of fatally shooting a Bluffton man on Christmas Eve 2010 can head to trial after a judge denied a motion to dismiss it on claims of self-defense.
Circuit Court Judge Markley Dennis Jr. ruled that Preston Oates' manslaughter charge would not be dismissed under the state's "Castle Doctrine," which shields from prosecution people who are defending themselves or others from intruders in their homes, workplaces or vehicles.
Oates' attorneys argued that Oates was enforcing parking regulations in the Edgefield community near Bluffton when he was forced out of his tow truck by 34-year-old Carlos Olivera, who threatened him and revealed a loaded handgun in a dispute over towing a minivan.
The argument was over, and Olivera was walking away when Oates shot him five times in the back and one time in the side, 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone countered.
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In his ruling, Dennis sided with the prosecution and said Oates' actions weren't covered under the Castle law.
"The facts presented do not show that at the time of the shooting Carlos was unlawfully or forcibly entering, or had entered, Oates' vehicle," Dennis wrote. "Carlos was walking away from Oates' tow truck at the time Oates got out of his vehicle and shot Carlos. Statements from witnesses, as well as the video of the incident support these findings."
The law authorizes the use of deadly force only when people "reasonably" believe it is necessary to prevent their own death or injury, Dennis wrote.
"The Court will not interpret the language of the statute to mean that a person may shoot and kill another when a perceived attack has ended," he wrote.
That's what the prosecution has been saying all along, Stone said.
"The purpose behind the Castle Doctrine is to protect people in their homes and on the street when they (are attacked by) burglars and carjackers," Stone said. "Carlos Olivera was neither."
The decision can be appealed within 10 days. Oates' attorney Don Colongeli said the defense will decide whether to appeal in the next two days.
Olivera's brother Nelson Olivera, who provided witness statements that indicated the fight was over when Oates fired, said the family is happy with the judge's ruling.
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- Decision on charges against Bluffton tow-truck driver expected soon, Feb. 1, 2012
- Judge weighs evidence in hearing for tow-truck driver accused of manslaugheter, Nov. 17, 2011
- Hearing of tow-truck driver accused of manslaughter set for today, Nov. 16, 2011
- Oates' defense seeks dismissal of manslaughter charge; Bluffton tow-truck driver acted in self defense in fatal Christmas Eve shooting, they argue, Oct. 5, 2011
- Messages tagged on area vehicles protest Bluffton tow-truck driver's release on bond, Oct. 4, 2011
- Suspect in Bluffton Christmas Eve fatal shooting freed on bond, Aug. 31, 2011