A jury has been seated to hear the retrial of a white former small town South Carolina police chief charged with murder in the shooting of an unarmed black man more than four years ago.
Lawyers spent several hours Monday picking the seven man, five woman jury that includes two African-Americans. The trial was moved from Orangeburg County to Richland County after the defense and prosecution agreed there had been extensive pre-trial publicity.
Richard Combs, the white former Eutawville police chief, is charged with murder in Bernard Bailey's death. Jury selection began Monday. The jury pool includes a former assistant solicitor and University of South Carolina criminal justice professor.
After Combs' indictment last December, the case drew comparisons to the shooting of a black man in Ferguson, Missouri, and the chokehold death of a black by police officers in New York City. Following trial in January, a jury in Orangeburg deadlocked.
The shooting happened after Combs tried to arrest Bailey on an obstruction of justice warrant prosecutors contend was trumped up. The defense said Combs fired in self-defense, caught in the door of Bailey's moving truck.
Pascoe suggested Combs was acting in retribution after Bailey criticized him for stopping his 20-year-old daughter for a broken taillight in March 2011. Pascoe says Combs used the confrontation as justification to seek the obstruction warrant that Combs waited to serve personally when Bailey came to the Eutawville Town Hall.
“He went to arrest Bernard Bailey on a trumped up warrant and he shot the victim,” Pascoe said. “And when the unarmed Bernard Bailey tried to leave the scene in his vehicle, the defendant put three bullets in him. One at point blank range right in the chest. Bernard Bailey, a father, a husband, a brother. Gunned down in a senseless act of violence.”
Combs' attorneys say the former police chief was trying to enforce the law only to find himself having to fend for his life when he got caught in and dragged by Bailey's truck.
One witness for the prosecution, a veteran law enforcement officer, said Combs should have had the warrant served by the sheriff's department. He also testified that any officer can use deadly force as long as he doesn't place himself in an “unreasonable situation.”
Just like in the first trial, Circuit Judge Brian Gibbons of Chester rejected a request to throw out the charge on a "stand your ground" defense.
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