Crime & Public Safety

Update: Bluffton couple charged in murder of local restaurateur Johnathan Cherol

2 arrested, charged with murder in Cherol homicide

Sam Collins, 38, and Collette Collins, 34, who are married, were arrested Dec. 3, 2015, and charged with murder in the shooting death of Johnathan Cherol, Bluffton Police Chief Joey Reynolds said at an afternoon news conference. Lt. Joseph Babkiew
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Sam Collins, 38, and Collette Collins, 34, who are married, were arrested Dec. 3, 2015, and charged with murder in the shooting death of Johnathan Cherol, Bluffton Police Chief Joey Reynolds said at an afternoon news conference. Lt. Joseph Babkiew

A Bluffton husband and wife have been charged in the brutal shotgun slaying of an Old Town restaurateur.

Sam Collins, 38, and his wife Collette, 34, are being held on murder charges in the Oct. 28 death of Johnathan Cherol who was killed on the back porch of his 39 Pinecrest Way home.

Bluffton Police Chief Joey Reynolds made the announcement at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

"Since the time of the shooting, our team of investigators has worked tirelessly to bring the Cherol family justice for their family's murder and to put the people responsible for that crime behind bars," Reynolds said.

"While this is a huge step in this case, there are still many more leads to follow," Reynolds said of the arrest. "This murder will be considered an open investigation."

Lt. Joseph Babkiewicz, the lead investigator, said police were still trying to determine a motive in the crime that left a community stunned.

Sam Collins was already in the Beaufort County Detention Center on drug, burglary and auto theft charges at the time he was charged with Cherol's murder, according to the center's web site. He was arrested on those earlier charges Nov. 4.

Collette Collins was arrest Nov. 24 and released the following day on a marijuana possession charge. She was served with an arrest warrant on the murder charge Thursday and is being interviewed by investigators, Babkiewicz said.

The break in the case came when police found the shotgun they said was used in the killing, Babkiewicz said. Police declined to say specifically where the weapon was recovered beyond that it was found outside of the Pinecrest neighborhood and led investigators to arrest the couple. He declined to say how the weapon was linked to the two, citing the on-going investigation.

Police Thursday reiterated what they have said from the beginning: that the killing of Cherol was a targeted attack.

"This is certainly an attack where he (Cherol) knew the people who were involved," Babkiewicz said.

Sam Collins criminal record includes arrests for first degree burglary, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, possession of a controlled substance, breaking and entering into an automobile, and petit larceny of a motor vehicle.

The arrest of Sam and Collette Collins comes five weeks after Cherol was killed.

During its investigation, the police department, along with the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, executed 25 search warrants, interviewed several people and submitted a "large amount" of evidence for forensic testing, Reynolds said Thursday. Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka and Beaufort County Sheriff Sheriff P.J. Tanner were among those attending the press conference.

Cherol was found dead of a single gunshot wound to the head.

One of two people who were at Cherol's house at the time and called 911 told the dispatcher he believed the bullet came from a golf course behind the house.

"My friend has been shot and killed," he said. "... Yeah. We were sitting outside, and he got shot in front of me."

Bluffton resident Johnathan Cherol was shot to death at his 39 Pinecrest Way home on Oct. 28, 2015. Two 911 calls made by two people at the house at the time of the shooting describe a scene where no one saw the shooter. The following is one of th

Bluffton resident Johnathan Cherol was shot to death at his 39 Pinecrest Way home on Oct. 28, 2015. Two 911 calls made by two people at the house at the time of the shooting describe a scene where no one saw the shooter. The following is one of th

Both callers said they did not see the gunman.

Cherol was involved in the local restaurant scene and was co-owner of the recently closed Pepper's Old Town.

The May River Road restaurant had opened in early 2015 as a revamp of the original Pepper's Porch, replacing another restaurant that was also co-owned by Cherol called Jack's Old Town.

His death fueled frustration and speculation online and across town as posters and residents demanded answers.

"We understand that our public may have been frustrated at the time it took to produce these arrest warrants," Reynolds said Thursday, "But there were reasons we didn't want to release details too early."

Follow reporter Caitlin Turner on Twitter at twitter.com/Cait_E_Turner.

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