A Beaufort resident who was shot dead in his yard Jan. 9 was caught off-guard by a man and woman who plotted to kill him because of a child-custody dispute, according to the prosecutor in the case.
Nicholas Degros was shot twice in the back of the head and then once execution-style up his nose, 14th Circuit Assistant Solicitor Hunter Swanson said.
"The facts of this case are horrific," Swanson told Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen Thursday during the bond hearing for the couple charged with killing Degros. "He had no idea it was coming."
Anthony Clyde Ellison, 38, and Jasmine Nicole Femia, 21, are charged with the 30-year-old's death outside his home at the corner of Washington and Wilmington streets. They will remain in jail after they waived their right to a bond hearing Thursday.
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Degros was the father of Femia's 2-year-old son, Swanson said. The S.C. Law Enforcement Division linked a rental car seen leaving the scene of the shooting to Femia. After his death, a witness told police she had heard Femia talking about planning to kill Degros, Swanson said.
Ellison had been out of prison less than three months, having served eight and a half years for an armed robbery in Columbia in 2006. He had started a relationship with Femia and was living with her at her Oak Hill Terrace apartment in Port Royal.
When Ellison and Femia were arrested, Ellison implicated himself in an attempt to save Femia from being charged in the case, Swanson said. When that failed, Ellison retracted his confession and attempted to "spin a tale" about a Hispanic mob hit.
Ellison, represented by public defender Arie Bax, and Femia, represented by public defender Jim Bannon, could request bond later. Bannon told Mullen they would do that at a time they felt was more appropriate.
Before Degros was killed, he and Femia were headed to court over visitation rights involving their 2-year-old son, who was in Femia's custody. The two had a Family Court hearing scheduled for Jan. 14.
Degros' aunt and uncle, Christine and Charlie Negron, said they had met with the Department of Social Services on Jan. 23 about Degros' son and Femia's other child, who Degros treated as his own. The Negrons said they were working with Femia's family to determine what was best for the two children, but it could take up to six months before they are released into either family's custody.
Degros had been paying child support for his son since 2012 and had been granted visitation rights last May, but planned to return to court over issues with Femia and the custody agreement.
On Aug. 15, Degros called Beaufort police when Femia did not show up for a child-custody exchange. On Sept. 5, Femia called Beaufort police and claimed the toddler had displayed sexual behavior twice since unsupervised visitations with Degros began in May. Police determined the child was too young to be interviewed, and the allegations were neither specific nor founded, according to the department.
Femia also said in the Sept. 5 police report that she stopped allowing Degros visitation and was awaiting a hearing in Family Court to address her concerns, but Family Court officials said Femia never filed action with the court or asked for a hearing.
Degros also filed a report with the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office on Sept. 26 after Femia failed to show up to drop off their son, according to a case report released Thursday.
Femia was also taken to Beaufort Memorial Hospital in May 2013 for a mental evaluation when she admitted to a deputy she was having thoughts of harming herself, according to a Sheriff's Office report. A friend had called the Sheriff's Office after Femia asked if she would take care of her children, the report said.
Christine and Charlie Negron said after the hearing they were pleased Ellison and Femia would remain behind bars, but were told it could take almost two years before the case reached trial. Charlie Negron carried with him the names of the nearly 1,700 people who had signed a petition asking for Mullen to deny Ellison and Femia bond.
He said Degros had lived with his family since Degros was 10 years old.
"He wasn't just my nephew," Negron said. "He was like a son to me."
Degros was also a doting father to fiancee Amanda Allen's three children. Allen said her children had written poems about Degros and met with grief counselors at school after his death. They've also kept toys and items Degros had given to them close by for comfort, she said.
"He was just the kindest person in the world," Christine Negron said. "He was just an amazing kid, and he just wanted to be an amazing father. Now these children won't have a father or a mother."