Crime & Public Safety

'Evil awaited them': Trial begins in one of Beaufort's oldest murder, rape cases

DNA expert shares odds of finding another match to Beaufort rape from the 80s

SC Law Enforcement Division agent Laura Hash shares the odds of DNA found on a rape victims clothing from the 80s with the jury during the first day of Isaiah Gadson Jr.'s trial at Beaufort County Courthouse. Gadson is linked by DNA to the January 1
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SC Law Enforcement Division agent Laura Hash shares the odds of DNA found on a rape victims clothing from the 80s with the jury during the first day of Isaiah Gadson Jr.'s trial at Beaufort County Courthouse. Gadson is linked by DNA to the January 1

Nearly 40 years ago a teenage girl in Beaufort stayed out past her curfew.

It was 15 minutes after midnight Jan. 6, 1980.

Her father was in bed. Her mother waited up.

The girl, who was a 10th-grader at Beaufort Academy at the time — who loved horses, dirt bike riding and cheerleading — burst into her home, out of breath from running as fast as she could through the pitch black night.

She was screaming.

She was crying.

A man had shot and killed her boyfriend, she told her mother.

Then that man raped her.

Her mother called the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.

Her father grabbed his shotgun.

From there, “everything just went chaotic,” the teenage girl, now a woman in her 50s, told the jury Tuesday afternoon at the Beaufort County Courthouse, where 65-year-old Isaiah Gadson is on trial in one of Beaufort County’s oldest cold cases.

Prosecutor Hunter Swanson began the day Tuesday by taking the jury back in time.

"The woods off Old Salem (Road) were studded with live oaks draped in Spanish Moss," Swanson, with the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office, said of the area just outside of Beaufort. "It used to be a dirt road ... after dark, after the sun set, couples might go there to have a beer, hang out a bit, maybe make out a little."

It was there on this remote road that 18-year-old David Krulewicz of Coosaw Island was murdered — by three gunshots to his head, neck and shoulder through the window of his van — just before midnight on Jan. 5, 1980.

It was there on that road that his 15-year-old girlfriend was brutally raped at gunpoint by his killer while Krulewicz lay dying, struggling to breathe and "gurgling up blood," Swanson said.

"(The victim) and her boyfriend David Krulewicz had no idea what evil awaited them," Swanson said.

The assailant, a man in his 20s, was unknown to the victim and to investigators with the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office until August 2016 when the DNA that the man left behind in semen on the victim's underwear turned up as a match to Gadson, a longtime Burton resident, who two months earlier had been arrested and charged with attempted murder.

"Justice may be late," Swanson told the jury of six men and six women in her opening arguments, "but it's here."

Gadson is on trial for murder, first-degree criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping and armed robbery.

The trial began in earnest Tuesday morning at the Beaufort County Courthouse in Beaufort, after jury selection and pretrial motions Monday, with the opening statements from Swanson and from public defender Trasi Campbell, who asked the jury to stick with her because she didn't want to give away her strategy on defending Gadson just yet.

"We’re going to get there," she said, "witness by witness, piece of evidence by piece of evidence."

Campbell quoted Martin Luther King Jr. and Shakespeare in her address to the jury.

"'Something's rotten in the state of Denmark,'" she said. "I think you will say that about the state of Beaufort County in 1980."

Campbell hinted at missing evidence and questioned the care with which Capt. Bob Bromage, head of cold case investigations for the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office, has handled the evidence since he reopened the case in the late 1990s and had items of the victims' clothing re-tested for DNA as technology advanced.

The first witness in the case, Sonny Bessinger, testified that he lived in the Old Salem Road area in January 1980 and remembers seeing Krulewicz's van as well as a second car when he was driving home from downtown Beaufort around midnight the night of the crime.

"How did you know it was midnight?" Swanson asked him.

"Everything closed at midnight back then,” he said.

Campbell questioned why Bessigner mentioned the car but not the van in his written statement in 1980.

"You changed your story, didn't you?"

"I don't know that I changed it," Bessinger said. "I didn't fill it in completely."

Gerald Wagner, who was with the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office in 1980 and who was the lead investigator in the case, traveled to Beaufort from Alabama to testify Tuesday.

Swanson asked Wagner the whereabouts of the detectives who worked on the case in 1980.

"Deceased, ma'am."

Campbell asked Wagner whether the 15-year-old victim's father, who showed up at the scene distraught and armed after the teenager had run home to get her parents, had ever been investigated as a suspect.

"No."

The victim took the stand just before noon Tuesday and lived that night once more for the jury.

She told them that she and Krulewicz had been on Lady’s Island with some friends. They later went to Burger King and then decided to spend the time she had left before her curfew hanging out on Old Salem Road.

Soon after, bullets broke a window of the van. Krulewicz was hunched over. The smell of gun powder was in the air and the girl was being led out of the van by a man with a pistol, which he put to her head, demanding oral sex.

“I was just screaming and begging for him not to shoot me,” the victim said Tuesday, her voice out of breath and shaky.

“I just knew I was about to be shot. Your life flashes before your eyes. I could just remember myself about 5 or 6 years old, swinging.

“I just knew I was getting ready to die.”

The man led her over to a spot on the ground and told her to lie down.

Swanson asked the woman what she was doing while the man raped her.

“Praying and just staring up at the sky and hoping it would be over soon.”

Gadson, wearing a plaid jacket, stared intently at the victim from his seat, sometimes shaking his head.

He maintains his innocence.

In June 2016, Gadson was charged with attempted murder, accused of shooting an acquaintance in the neck after the two had an argument at 9:40 a.m. in the parking lot of the Exxon gas station at the corner of Boundary and Hogarth streets in Beaufort.

A sample of his DNA was taken at the Beaufort County Detention Center and entered into CODIS, the FBI's criminal justice DNA database, which compares profiles to open cases across the country.

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