May 11, 1980
Just outside Beaufort
Susan Weed answered the phone.
A man’s voice greeted her on the other end.
“Is Mr. Weed there?”
He was not.
“Oh,” the man said, “is he still in Columbia?”
She told him no, but added that her father would be home soon.
The man’s voice sounded familiar to 16-year-old Susan.
“Who is this?” she asked.
The man replied that he was looking for a job.
She told him to call her father’s office tomorrow.
“Does Buster and Joe still work there?” the man asked.
“Doesn’t your dad own Carolina Moving and Storage?”
“Well,” the man asked her, “what do you do?”
“Nothing,” she replied.
“Yeah. You never did do much.”
He told Susan to hold on.
A bunch of kids were talking in the background, he said.
He got back on the phone.
“Were you the one that was raped?” the man asked.
Four months earlier, and less than a mile from her home, Susan Weed, then 15, had been parked in a van on Old Salem Road with her 18-year-old boyfriend, David Krulewicz, when an unknown man had come out of the darkness and shot and killed David.
The man then raped Susan.
Detectives with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department had not yet caught the suspect.
“Yeah,” she said.
“Well,” the man on the phone said, “did you like it?”
“What in the hell do you mean?,” Susan asked him.
He reworded the question.
“Did you enjoy it?”
Susan slammed down the receiver.
The man’s voice ...
It was familiar to her.
‘She’s going to come prepared’
April 25, 2018
Jasper County Courthouse
Hunter Swanson studied each juror’s face.
Under the desk, her leg bounced.
She stood, placed her notes on the stand and paused.
She faced the jury.
Her eyes flared. Her brow lifted. Her mouth tightened.
At first, Swanson — lead prosecutor in the special victims unit at the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office and one of the last people to whom Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Bob Bromage wanted to hand over his 1980 cold case — let the silence in the courtroom speak to her incredulity.
She then held up her hands, palms out, and hitched the air as if to emphasize the control it was taking for her to dam the disgust she felt for the defendant.
Finally, she spoke.
She took the jury through the details of the case once more.
Samuel Gonzalez had strangled his 25-year-old girlfriend, a Hardeeville mother of three, for between three and five minutes. He was jealous Marycruz Casillas had spoken with her sons’ father. He was angry she had caught him messaging his ex-girlfriend on Facebook.
Gonzalez had choked her so deliberately and ceaselessly that Marycruz had urinated herself as she died.
Police, Swanson reminded the jury, had found Marycruz’s two little boys cowered behind a mattress just feet from their mother’s body, which Gonzalez had covered with a child’s blanket.
“Murder,” she told them, “is malice aforethought.”
She explained the words.
She explained the law.
She explained how it differed from voluntary manslaughter, a lesser charge the jury could also consider in its deliberation.
Jurors did not know it at the time, but Gonzalez could have avoided trial by accepting a plea deal of 30 years for voluntary manslaughter. Instead he had taken his chances they would believe his claims of self-defense and find him not guilty — or only guilty of that lesser charge.
Swanson didn’t want the jury to choose either of those options.
She wanted them to see what she saw.
“Malice is evil, all right? It’s wickedness,” she said slowly, sharply. “It’s intentional wrongdoing without cause. … Aforethought? It can be formed in seconds.”
She gestured to the defendant, her voice bold, italic and mocking.
“His life was never in ‘jeopardy.’”
The jury deliberated for a stunningly short 17 minutes before declaring Gonzalez guilty of murder.
After the trial, jury foreman Michael Scott of Grays stood outside the courtroom.
He watched as Marycruz’s sister Adriana Casillas and her two best friends, teary and relieved by the verdict, rushed up the stairs to thank Swanson.
They handed her flowers and cupcakes.
They hugged her.
Most of the jurors had stayed in the gallery to watch as Gonzalez was sentenced to 37 years.
One juror became emotional. Another juror comforted her.
The trial had been brutal on all of them, Scott said. So much so that they had felt compelled to pray together in the jury room before handing down their verdict.
“She has a way of bringing it out of you,” he said of Swanson. “I can tell you that. She puts herself into it. I believe she puts you there. She gets the emotion out of you.”
Downstairs, Suniah Danaher, a friend of the victim’s sister, spoke emphatically of Swanson’s abilities and had a warning for future defendants.
“She is going to come prepared.”
Hunter Swanson now had less than four weeks to convince Bromage that she knew what she was doing.
That she wouldn’t drop his baby — a 36-year-old cold case solved in 2016.
That she cared as much as he did about the victims and their families.
And that she too wanted to see 65-year-old Isaiah Gadson — the man on trial for the murder of David Krulewicz and the rape of Susan Weed — behind bars for the rest of his life.
‘Not just a DNA case’
May 9, 2018
14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office
Second-floor conference room
Swanson outlined the case on the whiteboard.
She wrote down the pretrial issues — there were seven of them.
She listed the 16 witnesses she wanted to call and the order in which she thought they should appear.
The idea was to build a strong narrative for the jury about the night of Jan. 5, 1980.
She considered the jury’s feelings.
She tried to predict what might confuse them.
She thought about what would put them to sleep.
“I’m not using the word ‘panties,’’ Swanson told Deputy Solicitor Sean Thornton while they waited for Solicitor Duffie Stone. “Unless I’m quoting the reports.”
The trial was 12 days away.
The 38-year-old case presented unique challenges for the prosecution: Almost everyone involved in the original investigation had since died; evidence had been lost; memories would be considered less reliable.
And juries are fickle.
A DNA profile had been developed in 2002 from semen left on Susan Weed’s clothing by the suspect in 1980.
Gadson came up as a match to that profile in 2016 when he was arrested for attempted murder after a morning gun-spat at a Beaufort gas station.
The 1980 case seemed like a slam-dunk to some, but juries aren’t always swayed by DNA evidence.
“DNA is somewhat limited by what it can show,” Stone said in a recent email. “Well-gathered and properly tested DNA shows that a particular person was at a particular place. It does not tell when the person was there. ... DNA is good evidence. However, it is rarely the only evidence you need to prove a case.”
The increasing popularity of ancestral DNA tests online and recent stories in the media about the Golden State Killer cases in California — in which a suspect had been identified using DNA more than 30 years later — boded well for the jury’s general understanding of how a suspect could be identified 36 years later through science, but Swanson had other evidence she was hoping to use that would further strengthen the case.
Bromage had noted in his investigation the similarities between the rape of Susan Weed and the rape of a 21-year-old Marine in Beaufort three years later for which Gadson had served time in prison.
As a not-so-subtle hint to the prosecutor’s office, Bromage had included a 2016 judicial opinion in his investigation that had allowed for testimony from a victim in a 1995 rape case on Hilton Head Island to be used in court to bolster the accusations of a 2014 rape victim in Georgia.
In that example, the two sexual assaults were nearly 20 years apart and the suspect in both had never been found guilty of the first one.
Bromage wanted to show that this was a possibility even given those challenging circumstances.
“That should give (the prosecution) a ground ball,” he said of including the opinion in his case file.
A year and a half earlier, Bromage had contacted the Marine to ask if she would be willing to testify in the 1980 case should it go to trial.
She had agreed.
But getting her testimony admitted would be tricky.
Swanson would have to convince Judge Brooks Goldsmith that presenting the facts of the 1983 case would demonstrate to the jury that Gadson has a common “scheme” in carrying out his crimes — and that hearing the Marine’s testimony would serve to prove Gadson’s guilt rather than merely expose his criminal history and therefore prejudice the jury against him.
Swanson would have to show that both cases shared significant traits.
Susan and the Marine were young, white and had similar builds at the time of their rapes, Swanson told Thornton.
“How tall was Susan?,” Thornton asked.
“That’s great. Tall, slender …,” Thornton said.
“And also strangers to him,” Swanson added.
“The more of those things you can link together,” Thornton told her.
“He drives past the meetup spot and goes to a dirt road, a dark dirt road, with fields …,” Swanson said of the 1983 case.
“You’ve now got a .32 tied with a .32,” Thornton continued.
For years after David’s murder, Beaufort County investigators sent all the .32s they confiscated from suspects in other crimes to SLED for ballistics comparisons to the bullets used to kill David. Though the .32 found in Gadson’s car in 1983 was determined not to be the one used in the 1980 case, Thornton thought it was still worth noting in Swanson’s pre-trial motion.
“He likes .32s,” Thornton said of Gadson, who was never questioned about the 1980 case after his arrest in the 1983 case.
Swanson told Thornton about the call Susan had received four months after the crime.
Susan felt certain at the time that it was the man who had raped her.
Deputies had traced the call to a payphone in Beaufort.
The man on the phone had cared about whether Susan had derived pleasure from the rape.
Gadson had made this same inquiry of the Marine in 1983.
“I think she can testify to that,” Swanson said about Susan and the call.
“She absolutely can,” Thornton said, citing a rule of evidence that allowed for voice recognition.
“It’s burned into her memory,” Swanson said.
Stone walked in, and Swanson gave him the facts of the case.
“Your first five witnesses are clean,” he told her. “I like them.”
“I like your first five witnesses,” Thornton repeated.
Stone turned to Thornton.
“Isn’t that what I just said?”
“I’m agreeing with you, solicitor.”
The three talked about possible tactics from Gadson’s public defender, Trasi Campbell.
“Do you think she’ll argue consensual?,” Stone asked.
Swanson gave him a look.
“You made a face,” Thornton said. “But ...”
“I’ve seen some damn wacky defenses out there,” Stone said.
Swanson told them she thinks Campbell will try to insinuate “funny business” or “planting evidence” and might cite “pressure to solve the crime” as the reason the sheriff’s office charged Gadson in 2016.
“The same pressure existed in 1980,” Swanson said loudly, pointing to the facts on the whiteboard.
“Be ready for it,” Thornton said.
The talk turned to a witness’ arrest in the 1980s.
Then the evidence.
“All the crime scene photos are gone?,” Stone asked Swanson.
“Great,” Stone said dryly.
They wondered if Campbell might try to question Susan on her sexual history.
“Worst case is that it comes up and Trasi looks like she’s beating up a rape victim who has been suffering since 1980,” Thornton said.
They talked about where to put Bromage in the lineup and how long to keep him on the stand.
When Sheriff P.J. Tanner had reopened the case in 1999, cuttings from Susan’s clothes and underwear had been submitted to SLED for DNA testing.
The sample tested by SLED, however, was not large enough to develop a profile at that time.
When new technology — requiring a much smaller sample of DNA — became available a few years later, Bromage resubmitted the cuttings and pushed for a new test.
The prosecution worried that this retesting might be subverted by Campbell as a way to confuse the jury and lead them into wrongly believing that the semen only appeared after Bromage pressured SLED to test the cuttings again in 2002.
“For all I pick on him, Bob testifies really well and really confidently,” Thornton said.
Stone told Swanson that she needed someone who could explain the evolution of DNA testing without sending the jury into somnolence.
He went on his laptop and started on a mission. He called up snippets of interviews with SLED scientists.
“Think back on your high school or college chemistry class,” Stone later said in an email. “Your knowledge of the subject matter was almost entirely based on your teacher’s ability to explain it. If you, as a student, didn’t understand what your teacher was telling you, it was unlikely that you could grasp the concept on your own. The same applies to a jury listening to DNA testimony.”
Stone went up to the board and reordered the witness list, ending with John Barron, an affable and plain-spoken forensic scientist who had worked on the original testing and who Stone knew would be the absolute perfect person to explain DNA.
“Hunter, I like it,” Thornton said. “It’s not just a DNA case.”
There was one last order of business.
Soon after their first meeting in April, Bromage had begun to see that Swanson understood the nuances of the case, that she had respect for the investigation and that she wasn’t going to try to shut him out of pretrial preparation.
There was nobody who could explain this case like he could, and he didn’t want to leave anything to chance.
“Bob’s more invested than the typical investigator,” Swanson said at the time.
In spite of Bromage’s earlier misgivings, the two had become a team.
They were talking and texting several times a day and frequently running thoughts by each other.
“OK. What’s the deal with the cigarette butt?,” Swanson asked Bromage outside the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office’s evidence room after they had reviewed the evidence with Campbell in early April.
“She went right to that, didn’t she?” Bromage said of Campbell and the evidence that had secretly been collected from a potential suspect in 1982 to test whether his blood type matched.
“That’s why I was looking at you,” Swanson said.
Swanson and Bromage’s alliance was an inevitability given that one is a version of the other professionally.
Both are intelligent. focused, purpose-driven and sometimes stormy in their passion for the work they do.
They can be sharp-tongued and withering to anyone who approaches them in half-measure.
And though they are reserved on the outside, both have good senses of humor, generous laughs and are big-hearted, particularly when it comes to victims.
Swanson told Stone that she did not want to have a “second chair,” a fellow prosecutor to be her eyes and ears and sounding board during the trial.
She wanted someone else, she said.
“I’d rather have Bob at the table.”
‘Who’s going to sign up for that job?’
May 24, 2018
State v. Isaiah Gadson Jr.
Beaufort County Courthouse
David Krulewicz’s oldest sister, Debby Riddell, sat by herself.
She and her siblings needed some time apart, she said.
They had gotten into an argument.
Her eyes watered and her voice broke as she tried to explain why.
She shook her head.
She couldn’t talk about it.
All of this was too much.
Up to that point, the three — now seated in different rows — had moved about the courthouse as a single unit.
But the trial, which was in its fourth day, had turned the Krulewicz family into refugees of time.
For 38 years, Debby, Danny Krulewicz and Diane Larsen had known very little about their brother’s murder, gleaning whatever details they could from newspaper articles at the time.
Now, new information was coming at them quickly and there wasn’t always time to process it.
Moreover, they were not prepared for the tenacity of the public defender.
Danny and Diane were appalled by Trasi Campbell’s tactics in the courtroom.
But Debby was more understanding.
“She’s just doing her job,” she would tell them.
That morning, their disagreement about Campbell had continued on the drive in to Beaufort.
It was the reason the siblings needed to take a timeout from each other in the courtroom.
“I don’t want to hear another word about it,” Danny said to Debby. “You are not going to sit here and defend that woman in my car.”
For Diane, the trial, in many ways, was just as traumatic as losing David.
“She made a circus out of it,” she said recently of Campbell. “It was very insulting. That was probably the maddest I’ve been in a long time.”
When Diane first heard the trial was going forward, she was shocked.
She thought for sure Gadson would plead guilty.
But from the start, he had denied culpability and was not open to a deal.
At his age, he had nothing to lose by going to trial.
“There’s no doubt about it. The chips were stacked against Trasi,” Bromage said recently.
The strength of the DNA evidence was undeniable, plus Judge Goldsmith had ruled in the pretrial hearing to allow the Marine to testify.
It was an astonishing win for the prosecution.
And it was a significant blow to Gadson’s assertion of innocence.
To defend her client, Campbell — her voice indignant, her fingers pointed accusingly in all directions — ran full speed into a maze, searching for whichever path was going to take her toward reasonable doubt, slamming into the walls and shrubbery as she went.
Maybe Susan Weed was a rich girl whose Daddy didn’t want her to date a poor kid like David Krulewicz.
“Beaufort Academy?,” Campbell said to Susan on the stand. “That is a private school. Is that correct?”
“It had tuition.”
“In other words, you had to pay money to go there.”
“You weren’t on any financial assistance were you?”
Swanson objected. How was this relevant?
“The solicitor (already) asked where she went to school,” Campbell said to the judge innocently. “I was just trying to get more information about that.”
She changed topics.
What about Susan’s “fancy” childhood home?
“Did you have a dock then?,” she asked.
“We never had a dock.”
By the end of the trial, Campbell seemed to have exhausted every possible defense through insinuation: maybe Susan’s father, Johnny Weed, killed David; maybe the evidence was tainted by time or carelessness; maybe the sheriff’s office was corrupt; maybe they were incompetent; maybe Susan was drunk; maybe Susan was high; maybe there was a reason Susan had so much cash on her that night; maybe the Marine had been out all night partying; maybe deputies should have questioned the Marine’s husband; maybe Susan’s incorrect estimate of the suspect’s height meant she was lying; maybe the women were remembering all of this wrong; maybe scientists are racist; maybe the doctors saw no evidence of their rapes; maybe the Marine had sex with Gadson willingly; maybe Bromage was shady; maybe Bromage had grown to care so much for Susan over 20 years that he finally went out and got her a suspect; maybe Bromage was just looking to solve this case to get in the newspaper.
Maybe Bromage — whom Campbell addressed as “officer” rather than by his rank — was inept.
“I’m going to ask you to hold that bag for me,” she said, handing him a brown paper sack.
Inside were Susan’s clothes from the night she was raped.
“I’m going to ask you to take the corduroy pants out of the bag since it’s not sealed,” she said.
Maybe Bromage would pick up the pants with his bare hands and introduce the possibility that the sheriff’s office had been mishandling this evidence all along.
Bromage turned to the bailiff.
“Some gloves please.”
For several minutes, Bromage struggled with the gloves.
He couldn’t get the first set over his hands.
Bigger gloves were brought in.
He wrestled with that set as well.
He was given a third pair.
Bromage grew visibly annoyed at Campbell, making the spectacle even more awkward.
When he was finally able to pull on a set of gloves, Campbell instructed him to hold up the teenager’s pants — narrow and now crotchless from where the suspect’s DNA had been cut away and sent to the lab.
It was a stark reminder of the evil that had been done to a child.
And it was the first time Susan was seeing the pants she had been wearing the night she was raped.
The pants she had been wearing the night her boyfriend was murdered in front of her.
“It was surreal,” Susan’s husband, Rob, said.
Campbell reached over and ran a bare hand over the fabric.
“The only cuttings are from the crotch?,” she asked Bromage.
And with that she moved on.
Kevin Neal, Susan’s son, protested quietly from the gallery.
“She touched them!”
The trial itself was always going to be tough on Susan and the Krulewicz family
There is no easy way to relive the worst night of your life in front of strangers — especially not with stakes as high as these.
But they had not seen Campbell coming.
They were left rattled and resentful.
“She tried to botch the trial,” Diane said. “She never once defended her client. She never once said, ‘He’s innocent and I shall prove it.’”
Worse, no one could say with certainty that her tactics weren’t working.
During closing arguments, Swanson attempted to square Campbell’s circles.
She warned the jury that the public defender, who would give her arguments last, was going to get creative.
“I’m not going to be asking you to take incredible leaps of logic in your decision,” Swanson began.
She emphasized the word “reasonable” in “reasonable doubt.”
She dismissed the notion that Gadson might be a victim in a decades-long good ol’ boy conspiracy.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” she said.
Each night of the trial, Swanson and Bromage debriefed over the phone.
The previous night, they had wondered how Campbell might go about convincing a jury that the sheriff’s office had carried out a conspiracy against a suspect for 36 years.
The two cracked up considering the wild and unlikely scenarios under which that theory would have had to play out.
“What is she going to imply? That I went into evidence in 1999 and put Isaiah’s semen on Susan’s clothes — mixed with Susan’s DNA; you can’t forget that point — and then let a murderer-rapist walk around Beaufort County for another 17 years while I waited for him to get arrested for attempted murder?,” Bromage asked. “Yeah, OK.”
Swanson then made a very good point.
One that sent Bromage rolling.
“Jesus,” he said. “That’s hilarious!”
In her closing arguments, Swanson made the point again.
For this to have been a police conspiracy, she told the jurors, that would mean someone at the sheriff’s office would have had to go and obtain the semen from Isaiah Gadson.
“And who is going to sign up for that job?”
The other girl
May 24, 2018
Beaufort County Courthouse
She was at home in Yemassee when she saw Isaiah Gadson on the news.
Over the years, the woman had seen him out and about.
A few times he had apologized for what he had done to her.
He would smile at her and she would put her head down in shame.
He continued to haunt her.
Which is why Valerie Lincoln* — the 15-year-old girl who was raped three months after Susan Weed just 3 miles from Old Salem Road and who gave deputies the name of her rapist — got in the car and drove to the courthouse.
While Susan and the Krulewicz family anxiously awaited the jury’s verdict, Valerie, now in her 50s, was downstairs telling deputies what happened to her on the night of April 19, 1980, when Gadson offered to drive her home.
Back then, she had feared her parents would get in trouble because she had been somewhere she should not have been — at a nightclub just outside Beaufort.
Though a rape kit had been done and a sheriff’s department report had been filed, the family decided not to cooperate further with the investigation.
As a result, Valerie was sent a bill for her $150 rape kit.
Deputies never brought Gadson in for questioning.
They never added his name to the growing list of potential suspects in David’s murder and Susan’s rape — a collection of men who had raised thin and arbitrary suspicions among the public.
Instead Valerie’s case was forgotten.
At 15, she felt like there was nothing she could do about what happened to her, she told deputies.
Seeing this on the news and hearing what he was accused of doing to someone else, though, had given her strength to do something about it now.
If Isaiah Gadson is not found guilty, she told them, then she will press charges.
“He should not be let free.”
* The name Valerie Lincoln is a pseudonym used to protect the identity of the victim.
Click here to read the next — and final — installment of “Monster Unknown.”
Reporter Liz Farrell began following the Beaufort County cold case after Isaiah Gadson was arrested for the 1980 murder and rape in 2016. The resulting series, “Monster Unknown,” is the culmination of more than 100 interviews, dozens of hours of archival research, a year of attending cold case committee presentations at the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, as well as shadowing Maj. Bob Bromage, a cold case detective with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, and Hunter Swanson, the lead prosecutor of the special victims unit at the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, as they prepared for Gadson’s trial. Dialog is based on the reporter’s firsthand observations, primary accounts of past events, video, audio, newspaper articles, letters, text messages, as well as sheriff’s office investigators’ reports and written statements from the original case files.