New evidence in the case against three men charged with the murder of an 8-year-old Hilton Head Island boy has prompted a Circuit Court judge to dismiss the jury and postpone proceedings until both the defense and prosecutors can review it.
Judge Thomas Cooper also ruled Wednesday that defendants Aaron Young Sr., Aaron Young Jr. and Tyrone Robinson will now be tried separately.
Neither defense attorneys, nor the 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor's Office, which is prosecuting the case, was aware of the new evidence -- video and audio recordings from a Beaufort County Sheriff's Office cruiser -- until late Monday night or early Tuesday morning, Cooper said. The Solicitor's Office presented the recordings to the judge and defense attorneys just before opening arguments were to begin Tuesday.
Some of Singleton's family was in the courtroom when Cooper announced his decision. They took the news quietly, and were ushered into another room in the courthouse where Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone spoke to them. They departed without commenting.
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Cooper had been expected to decide Tuesday whether statements by Aaron Young Sr. to Sheriff's Office investigators were admissible, but he postponed his decision for a day after learning of the tapes. Wednesday morning, Cooper postponed the trial indefinitely, determining it would be "impossible" for either side to thoroughly analyze the tapes in time to restart the trial this week.
It is not clear why the recordings did not emerge earlier -- a question neither the Sheriff's Office nor the Solicitor's Office would comment on.
Outside the courtroom Wednesday, Stone said he could not comment on why the recordings might be significant, nor would he comment on any other aspect of the recordings. Sheriff P.J. Tanner also declined to comment on the recordings, as did spokesmen for both agencies.
Young Sr., 37, his son Young Jr., 20, and Robinson, 38, have all been charged with the murder of Singleton, who was shot while he played outside his grandmother's Allen Road home.
Young Sr.'s attorney, Robert Ferguson of Lady's Island, said the recordings were about four hours long and included audio from his client. Ferguson and Roberts Vaux, Aaron Young Jr.'s attorney, both said Wednesday they didn't know what caused the tapes to surface Tuesday morning, or why it took that long for their existence to become known.
Vaux said he and Ferguson spent six hours reviewing the recordings but still had not finished. He declined to comment on the recordings' content.
Ferguson said defense attorneys had filed legal papers requesting that all interviews and statements made to law enforcement by the defendants be turned over, but the new recordings weren't included in the files they received. He said he did not blame the Solicitor's Office for the late discovery of new evidence.
Young Sr. was interviewed by investigators after he was arrested a few hours following Khalil Singleton's death in Sept. 1, 2012. He claims -- and a forensic psychiatry expert also testified during pre-trial testimony Monday -- that during questioning, the Sheriff's Office coerced him into retrieving a weapon used to shoot Tyrone Robinson's car by telling him he would be exonerated if he did so.
Aaron Young Jr. used the gun, a 9 mm pistol, to shoot at the car parked outside Robinson's home on Allen Road. Robinson fired back at the Youngs as they left Allen Road, and one of his shots struck Singleton in the torso. Young Sr. later brought investigators to his father's home off Mustang Lane, where he retrieved the gun from a shed, investigators testified Monday.
It was unclear if the tapes included investigators' interview with Young Sr. He testified Monday that Capt. Bob Bromage of the Sheriff's Office told him he and his son would be "exonerated and made star witnesses" if he brought them to the gun, and another investigator who drove Young Sr. to his father's house urged him to cooperate in the car.
Cooper also allowed the trials of each man to be "severed," the legal term for separating the cases and trying them separately. No dates have been set for any of the cases. Each will require a new jury to be selected. A jury already had been selected for the trial that's now been scuttled; those jurors were released Wednesday.
Defense attorneys had asked weeks earlier that the defendants be tried separately because they would use different defense tactics, according to Vaux.
Cooper at first denied that motion, Vaux said, but when the judge asked Stone in court Wednesday, Stone did not oppose the motion.
Stone would not comment on why the cases were severed.
On Wednesday, Tyrone Robinson, the defendant who is representing himself with the assistance of public defender Arie Bax, asked Cooper to allow his trial to continue, since the newly revealed tapes apparently don't involve him. Cooper denied that request, however, citing evidence would have to be re-prepared by both sides for individual trials.
"It's impossible for this case to go forward," he said. "I note your objections, but it has to be done."
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.