Beaufort rape trial set Feb. 23

BEAUFORT -- The state's case against a 36-year-old St. Helena man arrested in 2006 on rape, kidnapping and carjacking charges likely will move forward after a judge denied a motion by his court-appointed attorney to postpone proceedings.

Judge Perry Buckner on Jan. 27 denied Beaufort defense attorney Jim Brown's motion to halt the prosecution of Alphonso Howard. Brown argued that the S.C. Commission on Indigent Defense's decision in December to stop paying court-appointed attorneys in non-capital criminal and civil cases conflicted with his client's constitutional right to sound counsel and Brown's ability to run a profitable practice.

The commission since has lifted the moratorium and will honor vouchers for legal fees through Feb. 28, another factor Buckner cited in denying Brown's motion.

"(Brown) has not shown that his appointment has or will materially affect his income," Buckner wrote. "I find there is no showing that (Brown), at this time, will be denied payment for his services, nor has counsel submitted any voucher for payment at this time."

Buckner cited a 1932 Supreme Court decision that lawyers accept the responsibility of representing indigent clients when they join the bar.

Brown could not be reached for comment.

Howard's trial is expected to begin Feb. 23. Solicitor Angela McCall-Tanner will try the case for the state.

Howard was one of two men arrested May 26, 2006, for allegedly abducting a Nashville, Tenn., couple at gun- and knife-point from a parking lot in downtown Beaufort.

Investigators say Howard and Lorenzo Hicks, 25, took the couple to a wooded area near Beaufort High School and sexually assaulted the woman after binding her husband's hands with a belt and blindfolding him.

Police say the man escaped and ran to a nearby home, where he called 911.

Howard and Hicks were arrested that night and since have awaited trial at the Beaufort County Detention Center.