A tow-truck driver accused of manslaughter in a nearly two-year-old case will be placed on electronic monitoring for at least 120 days, a judge ruled Monday.
The 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor's Office asked the judge to revoke Preston Oates' bond. Instead, Circuit Court Judge J. Cordell Maddox Jr. ruled Oates will have to wear a tracking device. He also ruled Oates will be allowed to get a job while he awaits trial. Conditions of Oates' bond had essentially put him under house arrest, confined to his father's house except for medical treatment or to meet with his lawyers. Both the prosecution and the defense asked the judge to change those requirements, but they disagreed over how those terms should be changed.
The Solicitor's Office wanted Oates behind bars until he is tried for fatally shooting 34-year-old Carlos Olivera in Bluffton on Christmas Eve 2010, or at least under electronic monitoring. Deputy Solicitor Sean Thornton said Oates has not complied with the terms of his release. He presented evidence from a Beaufort County Sheriff's Office investigation to try to prove it.
The defense challenged that evidence and argued that Oates should be free to work and travel while they appeal his charges to the S.C. Court of Appeals, where the case has not yet been scheduled.
Oates has been required to make weekly calls to his bail bonding company to "check in," but he has not been under direct supervision.
Maddox's ruling gave both sides a little of what they wanted. Defense attorney Don Colongeli said he considered it a victory.
After 120 days of electronic monitoring, Oates' attorneys can ask a judge to reconsider that requirement, Maddox ruled.
Thornton requested that Oates be monitored by Offender Management, a company hired by Beaufort County to track criminal defendants and based in the Solicitor's Office. That way, Oates' whereabouts won't be in question, Thornton said.
But Maddox said he "didn't care" which company monitors Oates. That will be up to the defense, which has 30 days to put the judge's requirements in place.
The Solicitor's Office argument relied on a months-long Beaufort County Sheriff's Office libel and slander investigation, launched after a fake dating-website profile of Sheriff P.J. Tanner appeared online.
The profile was traced to a computer in Oates' father's home, which is in an undisclosed location. Investigators then subpoenaed a cellphone number Oates had listed as his primary contact number, and found calls had been made from the phone in other locations, including in North Carolina.
Thornton showed those phone records to the judge. He also presented a police report from another county that showed Oates was pulled over and given a warning for a minor traffic violation after 11 p.m. on Jan. 12.
Defense attorneys Newman and Don Colongeli said the Sheriff's Office investigation was unconstitutional because the state's criminal slander and libel statute was declared unconstitutional by the S.C. Supreme Court in the 1990s.
The defense also called the evidence insufficient. Other members of the Oates family use the cellphone, Newman said. Colongeli also told the judge he had met with Oates on Jan. 12 in the late afternoon before Oates was pulled over on his way home.
Oates waived his right to appear in court and was not present at the hearing.
Olivera family members were in court Monday. Nelson Olivera, the victim's brother, said Oates should be awaiting trial behind bars but that electronic monitoring was a small improvement.
Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/LCBlotter.