Beaufort News

Deputy solicitor 'wanted to do good'

Whether it was a victory, such as winning a sexual-assault conviction, or a defeat, such as losing a case against a man accused of shooting to death a young sailor, Angela McCall-Tanner took her work home with her.

"You may wrap a case, but the victims you see -- their faces go home with you at night. You really want to do good for law enforcement and the victims," she said in a recent interview.

McCall-Tanner's concern for violent crime victims could be emotionally draining, she and her husband, Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner, say.

After deliberating for about a year, McCall-Tanner in April left her job as deputy solicitor to join the general practice firm of Vaux & Marscher in Bluffton. She'd been a prosecutor with the 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor's Office for almost 12 years.

"I don't think you can do that job well if you don't invest yourself, but it's hard to leave everything at work," she said. "Maybe that's part of the reason I burn out -- it's such a part of me."

McCall-Tanner said she and her husband discussed the change at length and he told her to do "what was best for her."

Sheriff Tanner said that what he most admired about his wife was her concern for the crime victims, but that over the years, he noticed she had become "too emotionally involved" in some cases.

He cited her work to convict Alfonzo Howard, sentenced to six life sentences without parole for abducting a couple from a Beaufort parking lot in 2006, then sexually assaulting the woman.

Solicitor's Office victims advocate Rhonda Cradle, who has worked closely with McCall-Tanner for nearly four years, said McCall-Tanner was a bulldog at trial, but unlike some prosecutors, she connected with witnesses and victims.

"She has this style and personality in which she can walk into a room and hang with kings and queens or people who are, kind of, undesirables," Cradle said. "She taught me that the best way to get a witness to cooperate -- especially in a high-profile case -- is to make them feel comfortable."

FIRST FEMALE PROSECUTOR

McCall-Tanner said former Solicitor Randolph Murdaugh took a chance when he hired her as the county's first female prosecutor in 1999. She was fresh out of the University of South Carolina Law School and grateful for the opportunity.

"I was a baby back then and, as a woman, somewhat of a novelty," she recalled with a laugh. "I didn't have a lot of experience, but started from scratch and learned the hard way. I guess when you learn the hard way, you don't forget it."

She was promoted to deputy solicitor in 2006 by Murdaugh's successor, Duffie Stone, who said she was a major asset to the office.

McCall-Tanner says she didn't keep track of the number of convictions she won as deputy solicitor, but she worked on every homicide case that came through the Beaufort office -- including murder, manslaughter and felony DUI death cases -- usually averaging about 10 a year.

In 2009, McCall-Tanner secured convictions in six of the seven murder cases she worked.

The seventh eluded her.

A jury found Melvin Holmes of St. Helena Island not guilty in the 2008 shooting death of a 22-year-old sailor.

McCall-Tanner wouldn't speculate on why the jury returned that verdict, but said the case was difficult to prove because it relied on differing eye-witness accounts.

The case weighed on her, Cradle said.

"It's the first time I ever witnessed Angie bothered like that," Cradle said. "She would dissect herself and look at what she did or didn't do. She takes it out on herself -- especially if it's a victims case."

Beaufort lawyer Mike Macloskie described McCall-Tanner as a great servant of the law who was always firm about the way a case should be handled. He said she stood her ground during recent plea negotiations in a case involving an 81-year-old Port Royal man who died during a vicious attack and burglary in 2007.

"I thought Angie treated my client fairly and didn't compromise to do it," he said. "She was tough and sometimes hard to deal with, but she was always fair. She's no-nonsense. If you ask her a question, you better be prepared for the answer."

NEW FOCUS ON DOMESTIC LAW

Stone has replaced McCall-Tanner with Sean Thornton, a prosecutor since 2002 who will also remain deputy solicitor for the other counties in the 14th Circuit -- Jasper, Hampton, Colleton and Allendale. Thornton will oversee administrative duties, career-criminal-prosecution teams and ensure assistant solicitors' cases are handled appropriately.

Stone said the support of an office of experienced assistant solicitors will allow Thornton to handle the workload.

In Beaufort County, Thornton also will take over McCall-Tanner's high-profile cases, such as the manslaughter charge against Bluffton tow truck driver Preston Oates. Oates is accused of shooting to death a man during a towing argument on Christmas Eve.

"In a lot of ways, it will be similar to what I've been doing," Thornton said. "I love what I do, and I enjoy the public service aspect of it. I hope I can do as good a job as Angie did here in Beaufort."

McCall-Tanner said she was ready for a change when Roberts Vaux approached her about joining his firm.

At Vaux & Marscher, she will focus mostly on domestic law -- such as divorce and child custody cases -- and leave criminal defense to others at the firm, she said. That decision was based mostly on her nine-year marriage to the sheriff.

"Now, there's a conflict if I handled Sheriff's Office cases," she said. "I think it's best to stay away from it. Because of my background, I also wanted to be sure I attached myself with firms that would not exploit the role I had as a prosecutor."

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