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Defense rests without witnesses in Uber ride murder trial

Defense rests without witnesses in Uber ride murder trial

The defense has rested without calling any witnesses in the murder trial of a man accused of killing a South Carolina college student who mistakenly got into what she thought was her Uber rideBy JEFFREY COLLINS Associated PressJuly 26, 2021, 8:13 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCOLUMBIA, S.C. — The defense rested without calling any witnesses Monday in the murder trial of a man accused of killing a South Carolina college student who mistakenly got into what she thought was her Uber ride.The judge sent the jury home for the day, scheduling closing arguments for Nathaniel Rowland’s trial for Tuesday morning. He faces up to life in prison if he is convicted of kidnapping and murder in the March 2019 killing of 21-year-old Samantha Josephson.Prosecutors also rested their case Monday after calling nearly three dozen witnesses. The next-to-last person on the stand was a pathologist who testified there were more than 100 stab wounds on Josephson’s body.There was also so little blood left in her body — 20 milliliters (1.3 tablespoons) when a body typically has at least 4 liters (1 gallon) — that workers at her autopsy struggled to get enough blood for routine testing, said Dr. Thomas Beaver, who conducted the examination of the woman after her death.Beaver spent an hour methodically detailing the roughly 120 separate stab wounds on Josephson’s body. He said he didn’t have en exact number because there were so many.“It gets to a point where it really doesn’t add much to the report,” said Beaver, a pathologist at the Medical University of South Carolina.Beaver said almost all of the stab wounds were to Josephson’s head, arms, chest and back and several of the wounds would have penetrated into her brain or neck and been fatal. He took 170 photos and 13 X-rays.“There were a lot of injuries,” Beaver said.Before resting the defense’s case, Rowland’s lawyer asked the charges be thrown out because prosecutors had a circumstantial case — never showing that Rowland actually killed Josephson or was driving the vehicle when she disappeared.Circuit Judge Clifton Newman rejected the request, saying there was an avalanche of direct and circumstantial evidence that a jury should consider.Josephson got into Rowland’s car in March 2019 thinking it was her Uber ride back to her house, prosecutors said. The University of South Carolina student from Robbinsville, New Jersey, instead found herself trapped in the back seat because Rowland had the child safety lock on, investigators said.Prosecutors have taken a methodical approach the entire trial. Before Beaver took the stand, they linked Josephson’s blood to areas all over Rowland’s Chevrolet Impala, a knife with two blades and cleaning supplies in the trash behind his girlfriend’s home and on a sock and bandana owned by Rowland.The prosecution has introduced a mountain of other scientific evidence, from matching a footprint found on a rear window of Rowland’s vehicle to Josephson, to cellphone data showing he was in the area where her body was found some 65 miles (105 kilometers) from where she was last seen in Columbia’s Five Points entertainment district.Another witness said DNA found under Rowland’s fingernails matched Josephson’s genetic material.In previous testimony, Rowland’s attorneys have pointed out scientists weren’t absolutely certain Rowland’s DNA was on the knife and his genetic material wasn’t in other places it might be expected.Their questioning has also showed that while Josephson appeared to fight her attacker — she had several stab wounds that went all the way through her hands — none of Rowland’s DNA was found on her or under her fingernails and and no visible marks were found on Rowland after his arrest.Beaver testified he was certain the knife with two blades taken from the trash can of Rowland’s girlfriend was used to kill Josephson. But on cross examination, Beaver told a defense attorney that he Googled hundreds of pictures of knives after the autopsy to figure out what could have caused the unique wounds and sent investigators a photo of a different looking weapon.Josephson’s death turned a national spotlight on ride-hailing safety and led to some changes, including more prominent displays of driver’s license plates. The trial is being streamed across the country by Court TV.———Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.

Man sues police for defamation after charges dropped

Man sues police for defamation after charges dropped

A South Carolina man whose charges were dropped after police body camera footage showed he did not fight an officer who attacked him is suing the city of Rock Hill and UBy JEFFREY COLLINS Associated PressJuly 20, 2021, 8:29 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCOLUMBIA, S.C. — A South Carolina man whose charges were dropped after police body camera footage showed he did not fight an officer who attacked him is suing the city of Rock Hill and U.S Rep. Ralph Norman for defamation.Travis Price worked second shift at a chemical plant and has no criminal record so the untrue items in the police news release issued after leaders had seen the body camera were especially damaging to Price’s reputation, his lawyer wrote in his lawsuit.In a Facebook posting, Norman repeated those false police statements slandering Price more, the lawsuit said.“By issuing a press release to the media that was riddled with lies and mistruths about what occurred with Mr. Price on June 23, the Rock Hill Police Department changed his life in a devastating way,” attorney Justin Bamberg wrote in a statement.Price saw his brother get pulled over by Rock Hill police on June 23 and stopped to check on him and was told he could take his brother’s jewelry after officers found marijuana and a gun in the car, the lawsuit said.Rock Hill police investigator Jonathan Moreno then arrived and body camera footage showed him attack Travis Price without provocation. Moreno was fired, charged with misdemeanor assault and battery and apologized for attacking Price at the news conference where prosecutors released the video.Prosecutor Kevin Brackett said at that same news conference that Price “had done nothing wrong” and authorities dropped all charges against him.Price’s attorney said Rock Hill police watched the same body camera footage as Brackett before issuing the news release that included the untrue statements about Price resisting police commands and attacking officers.“The entire official written City Memorandum was written in a way so as to disparage the character, image, and reputation of Plaintiff; purposefully using statements like ‘managed to handcuff Travis’ so the public would believe Plaintiff was combative and fighting officers, resisting or evading arrest, and/or otherwise being unlawfully non-compliant with law enforcement lawful orders,” Bamberg wrote in the lawsuit.On his Facebook page, Norman repeated the items from the city’s news release and the Republican did not edit the post until shortly before the lawsuit was filed. The edited post still referred to Price as a “suspect,” according the the lawsuit.A lawyer for the city of Rock Hill and a spokesperson for Norman both declined to talk about the lawsuit to media outlets.———Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.

Facebook arrest video leads to protests in South Carolina

Facebook arrest video leads to protests in South Carolina

Two nights of protests outside a South Carolina police station have followed the arrest of two men seen on a Facebook video being wrestled and punched by Rock Hill officersBy JEFFREY COLLINS Associated PressJune 25, 2021, 6:16 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCOLUMBIA, S.C. — Demonstrators converged outside a South Carolina police station for a second day Thursday, protesting the arrest of two men by officers in Rock Hill who were recorded on a Facebook video wrestling and throwing punches with the two.Eleven people were arrested on the second day of protests, just hours after the police chief and a civil rights leader had asked for calm. Most of the arrests were for disorderly conduct as protesters blocked several streets near the police station and one threw two firecrackers at officers, officials said.At one point, a line of officers in riot gear stood outside protecting police headquarters as more protesters gathered across the street, according to video from a reporter from The Herald of Rock Hill.About 100 people were at Wednesday’s protest just hours after the arrests of the two men. Some threw bottles and rocks at police officers in riot gear and set a small fire outside the building before leaving just after midnight. There were no arrests and no injuries Wednesday and police didn’t use any pepper spray or tear gas, Rock Hill Police Lt. Michael Chavis said.The two men were taken into custody at a gas station Wednesday afternoon. A Facebook video showed several officers wrestling with both men and forcing them to the ground. One officer is seen throwing punches and a man’s face was bloodied.Two officers have been placed on leave and the State Law Enforcement Division is investigating the arrest, Rock Hill Police Chief Chris Watts said at a news conference Thursday where he spoke with a local civil rights leader.“The incident has been under review since yesterday when it occurred. However, conducting an accurate and through review takes time,” Watts said.Police conducting a drug investigation Wednesday afternoon pulled over one of the men after he made an illegal turn, and the man called his brother to say he was stopped, Chavis said.The driver tried to run when officers removed his handcuffs so he could take off some jewelry, and his brother bumped officers and refused to move back when ordered, Chavis said.An officer punched one man several times in the thigh to get him to stop resisting and when that didn’t work punched him once in the nose and he stopped fighting, the police chief said.A drug dog at the scene did not bite either man, and officers did not use stun guns or other weapons, Chavis said.The men were treated by paramedics and one of them was taken to the hospital before being taken to jail.A lawyer for the brothers said one of them suffered a broken nose and is in a wheelchair and the force against both men was excessive.“They forgot just because you thought someone broke the law that you get to punish them in the process and that’s not how things work here in America. You’re innocent until proven guilty,” attorney Justin Bamberg said at a news conference.A Rock Hill civil rights leader said she watched the Facebook video and the body camera footage from the officers and asked people to give investigators time to unravel the events that unfolded Wednesday in the gas station parking lot.“There was some much scuffling and so much contortions off camera that were not seen,” said Norma Gray, president of the Rock Hill branch of the NAACP.Gray said she has worked with Rock Hill’s police chief for seven years to improve its relationship with the Black community and he has been open and helpful.The safety of the officers who weren’t part of the arrest matter too, Gray said, asking protesters to stay peaceful and calm.“I am asking and appealing to the community of Rock Hill to give us time,” she said.The police chief acknowledged at first glance the video of the arrest was ugly, but he said investigators are seeking the entire truth.“It doesn’t look good,” Watts said. “But we have to look at the facts.”———Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.

New reports shed little new light on South Carolina killings

New reports shed little new light on South Carolina killings

State police have released a number of additional reports on the shooting deaths of a mother and her son from a prominent South Carolina legal familyBy JEFFREY COLLINS Associated PressJune 21, 2021, 9:48 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCOLUMBIA, S.C. — State police released a number of additional reports Monday on the shooting deaths of a mother and her son from a prominent South Carolina legal family, but they contained little new information and a number of passages blacked out.Paul Murdaugh, 22, and his mother, Maggie, 52, were found dead near each other outside their Colleton County home on June 7. Both had been shot multiple times.Colleton County deputies quickly asked the State Law Enforcement Division to take over the investigation and in the following two weeks, state police have said little about their progress. No arrests have been made. Agents have not said if they have any idea who might have killed the victims.In a statement issued along with 18 pages of police reports — all but one page with something redacted and some pages with all the information blacked out — agency Chief Mark Keel said agents have been constantly working on the investigation and their diligence and silence is to make sure any case stands up in court and the killer or killers face justice.“I urge the public to be patient and let the investigation take its course. This case is complex, and we will not rush this or any investigation,” Keel said.So far, police have said that Alex Murdaugh found the bodies of his son and wife and called 911. The coroner’s office said they were each shot multiple times and found near each other.Alex Murdaugh’s brothers told Good Morning America in an interview last week that he was visiting his father in the hospital and checking on his mother and found his wife and son shot when he returned home.The family also said Paul Murdaugh received threats as he awaited trial on a charge of boating under the influence causing death in a February 2019 crash that killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach. The woman’s body was found seven days after the crash. They did not give specifics on the threat and said at the time they didn’t think they were credible.Whether local law enforcement agencies tried to obstruct the investigation into the boating death is also being reviewed by state officials.Paul Murdaugh’s grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great grandfather were all longtime elected prosecutors in the area, but all were out of office at the time of the boat crash. The family said in the TV interview that none of their members tried to influence or stop the investigation.The Post and Courier newspaper in Charleston sued state police over not releasing the reports and 911 calls. They said the agency was breaking state law. The 911 calls have not been released.“It’s up to the judge to decide whether SLED and the sheriff’s office have been too heavy-handed in blacking out portions of the reports,” The Post and Courier’s lawyer, Edward Fenno, told the newspaper. “We have requested a hearing on the subject as soon as possible.”The parts of the supplemental police reports released Monday that weren’t blacked out include a deputy asked to get a tent to put over evidence while crime scene technicians worked, another deputy who outlined where he put crime scene tape and other officers asking nearby homes and businesses if they have surveillance cameras pointing toward the road.The only report that did not have something blacked out was an officer who said he put up crime tape and started a log of everyone who went into the scene.———Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.