Beaufort County's solicitor and sheriff have been using a little-known state law to compel witnesses to testify about a deadly St. Helena Island nightclub shooting.
Solicitor Duffie Stone said he began issuing subpoenas in mid-August under the "mob law," but he declined to say how many have been served.
"I'm doing this the exact same way as if this was an investigative grand jury," he said. Grand jury proceedings are secret by law, and Stone says he also has discretion under the mob law on how to conduct the investigation.
"The mob law does not specify a procedure and leaves it up to the solicitors to run things as they see fit," he said. "... I think this is the appropriate procedure to follow."
Never miss a local story.
Stone said he won't release details until the investigation is completed.
"I will tell you it's been continuous, but I can't tell you how long it's going to take," he said.
The mob law was put to use by Stone and Sheriff P.J. Tanner after a June 21 shooting at Midnight Soul Patrol on 56 Toomer Road. Two men were killed and two others were injured in the shooting that occurred in front of at least 50 witnesses. Few witnesses were cooperating with deputies, according to Sheriff's Office investigators, so the decision was made to use the mob law.
The law allows witnesses to be subpoenaed without first indicting a suspect, if the crime is violent and committed by two or more people against another person or group. Subpoenaed witnesses can be charged with contempt of court and go to jail if they refuse to give sworn testimony.
Tanner also declined to comment on whether testimony gathered under the law has led investigators to new suspects or provided an explanation for why the shoot-out occurred.
"We have a pretty good idea who's responsible for what," Tanner said. "We need additional information to verify what we already know. ... The hope is also for additional information that we aren't aware of."
CASE STILL UNSOLVED
Two men were arrested within 24 hours after the nightclub shooting, but their charges only account for two of the four victims.
Joseph David Bowers, 27, of St. Helena was charged with the murder of 26-year-old Michael Douglas Morgan, also of St. Helena. Bowers shot Morgan in the abdomen and buttocks, and Morgan "was able to identify (Bowers) by name during the interview prior to his death," the arrest warrant states.
Bowers posted a $125,000 bond Dec. 3. Bond conditions set by Circuit Court Judge Craig Brown stipulate he must wear an electronic monitoring anklet, and he can't leave home except to go to work and to appointments with a doctor or a lawyer. He's also prohibited from having any contact with Michael Morgan's family, according to court records. Stone's office -- not the sheriff's deputies -- are responsible for making sure Bowers complies.
Lucas Miles Morgan, the 26-year-old brother of Michael Morgan, was charged with the attempted murder of Richard Earl Green Jr., 25, of Beaufort, according to his arrest warrant. Green was wounded on his left side, the warrant says.
Morgan was denied bond and has remained in the Beaufort County Detention Center. His lawyer, Naki Richardson-Bax of the Bax Law Firm in Beaufort, said she hasn't been told anything about the investigation.
"I don't know that they've gotten anything from (the mob law)," she said. "As of right now, we're just waiting."
Details about the fatal shooting of Dante Kendall Bailey, 33, of St. Helena Island, and the injury of 20-year-old Robert Goodwine Jr., also of St. Helena Island, are not being released by authorities.
NO RETALIATION REPORTED
Since the mob law was used, Tanner said he has not heard reports from residents about retaliation for giving sworn statements.
Soon after Tanner held a community meeting in July to explain the mob law and to urge people to come forward, the Sheriff's Office began investigating three suspicious home fires in the area. The investigations continue, and it's uncertain whether the fires are connected or whether they were caused by arson.
"If the investigation is completed and it turns out to be arson, of course, you're going to automatically assume ... it could be motivated by our presence," he said. "No one has notified us that they've been threatened in any way."
Tanner said he plans to hold another community meeting, where he will answer residents' questions, after Stone finishes issuing subpoenas.
So far, the shooting at the Midnight Soul Patrol, known in the community as the Poot Shack, is the only case in Beaufort County in which the mob law is being used. Tanner said he hopes it will result in enough information to solve the crime.
"I think it's pretty well-known in the St. Helena community that we're serious about what we're doing," Tanner said, "and we'll use whatever legal means we can to get the job done."