WALTERBORO, SC (May 20, 2019) – A Colleton County man is headed to prison for voluntary manslaughter and kidnapping in connection with a 2017 drug deal gone bad.
Corey Niko Sanders, who turns 27 on May 23, pleaded guilty Monday in Colleton County General Sessions Court in the death of 29-year-old Joseph Leeman. Sanders was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
“There is a theme running throughout a lot of the drug-related cases I prosecute: Drug use and drug dealing are not victimless crimes,” said Assistant Solicitor Tameaka Legette of the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, who prosecuted the case. “I see so many property crimes and so much violence as a result of the drug trade. In this case, one young man is dead and another is headed to prison.
“I hate to sound cliched, but drugs really do kill.”
Sanders’ previous criminal record included a conviction for strong armed robbery. He had recently been released from prison when he killed Leeman.
Circuit Court Judge Perry Buckner handed down Monday’s sentence.
In October 2018, Dana Castillo-Martinez, 39, pleaded guilty to attempted armed robbery in connection with the incident. She awaits sentencing.
On the day of his death, Leeman acquired a batch of crystal methamphetamine and arranged for Martinez, one of his regular customers, to make a purchase. Martinez agreed to meet with Leeman and his girlfriend that night in the back yard of a home on Nunuville Road, where one of Leeman’s friends lived.
As the drug deal was being negotiated, Sanders emerged from the darkness with a handgun, pulled Leeman’s girlfriend from the vehicle in which she and Leeman sat, and threatened to shoot her unless Leeman handed over his drugs and money. Leeman refused and pulled his own gun, his girlfriend told authorities. Sanders then shot and killed Leeman before speeding away with Martinez in the vehicle she was driving.
Colleton County Sheriff’s Office investigators discovered that, just before the murder, Martinez let Sanders out of the car so he could approach on foot with the gun, part of a plan to rob Leeman.
Two others were also accused of participating in the plan. Gary Dale Hickman of Colleton County was charged as an accessory before the fact of a felony but did not stand trial because he was killed a few months after Leeman’s killing.
Another co-defendant, 63-year-old Harold Hatchell, is charged with accessory before the fact of a felony. That charge is merely an accusation, and all defendants are considered innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
Legette is a member of the Solicitor’s Office Career Criminal Unit, which prosecutes the 14th Circuit’s most violent and habitual offenders. The team has earned convictions against 329 of the 342 defendants it has prosecuted since its formation in late 2008. Legette has accounted for 61 of those convictions.