State prosecutor targets career criminals in federal court
Photo courtesy of Scott Thompson/Bluffton Today
By Scott Thompson
The 14th Circuit Solicitor Office’s career criminal prosecution program is going federal.
The office announced Thursday a partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute repeat offenders within the circuit in federal court in Columbia and Charleston.
Solicitor Duffie Stone said the initiative will give prosecutors more leverage and access to federal penalties when going after career criminals in Beaufort, Jasper, Colleton, Hampton and Allendale counties. The additional resources could lead to increased prison sentences for the offenders, Stone said at a news conference Thursday morning in Bluffton.
“I believe (the partnership) is going to help tremendously in our efforts to make the entire 14th Circuit a safe place,” Stone said.
Stone’s office launched its Career Criminal Prosecution Team in 2010, targeting “those people who cause a disproportionate amount of crime in the circuit and continuously get arrested, get out of prison and commit another crime,” he said.
The team has successfully prosecuted 427 repeat offenders who have committed well over 1,000 crimes throughout the circuit, Stone said.
The latest conviction came Wednesday when 43-year-old Walter Glass pled guilty and was sentenced to life for the July 2013 murder of Pritchardville resident Melanie Lowther. Glass had several criminal convictions already on his record.
U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles’ said the partnership allows prosecutors to more aggressively go after drug traffickers, but particularly repeat violent offenders who possess firearms.
“My job is not to incarcerate people,” Nettles said. “My job is to make South Carolina safer.”
In South Carolina, gun penalties for violent repeat felony offenders have sentences as low as five years that are parole eligible and have early release mechanisms built in.
The same penalties in federal court carry minimum sentences of 15 years and a maximum of life, Stone said, adding felons convicted of federal court are not eligible for parole.
“They’re just not very serious penalties (in South Carolina),” Stone said. “I have been an advocate for truth in sentencing in South Carolina for many years. The federal government has that. They did away with parole in 1984, which means if you receive a sentence in federal court, it means what it says.”
Stone said a primary example of the new partnership’s impact is the Khalil Singleton murder case on Hilton Head Island.
Singleton, 8, was shot and killed in 2012 during a shootout between Tyrone Robinson, Aaron Young, Sr. and Aaron Young, Jr. All three men were charged and sentenced within the last two years for the murder.
Young, Sr. was prohibited from having the 9 mm pistol he used in the shootout by federal law, but not state law, Stone said.
“(Access to the stiffer penalties) is probably the biggest advantage we’ll gain (through the partnership),” Stone said.
Stone said Carra Henderson his office’s career criminal prosecutor in Jasper County, is relocating to Columbia to become a special assistant U.S. attorney and will try 14th Circuit cases out of the federal office there.
Stone said the initial focus will be Allendale County, but the initiative will eventually spread to the entire circuit.
In the end, Stone said, the goal is to keep people like Robinson, who committed 13 crimes in a seven-year span leading up to the Singleton murder.
“I don’t think anyone thought Tyrone Robinson was not a violent criminal, not after the shooting and killing an 8-year-old child on Hilton Head,” Stone said. “Yet he was deemed a nonviolent offender by the state of South Carolina up until that time. We need to start focusing on the criminal as opposed to the crime.
“We need to realize violent criminals do not specialize, and the commit all types of crimes.”