Victim’s family demands action after convicted murderer’s secret release
‘You don’t let foxes guard hen houses,’ lawmaker says in pushing for reform bill
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - The family of a Charleston man murdered in 2002 called on state lawmakers Tuesday morning to take up a judicial reform package this year months after their son’s convicted killer was released early from prison under a sealed order.
Lillie and Carl Smalls, the parents of Carl “Dash” Smalls Jr., joined a group of solicitors, sheriffs and lawmakers at the State House lobby.
“This was a secret, secret deal and unlawful act,” Carl Smalls said. “We’re here today to put a face on injustice and you’re looking at it, injustice.”
Carl “Dash” Smalls Jr., a West Ashley native and former University of South and North Carolina football player, was gunned down in a nightclub shooting in Columbia.
His killer, Jeroid Price, was convicted the following year and sentenced to 35 years in prison. But Price was suddenly released in March by a judge who ordered the order sealed.
“You know, our son is in the graveyard right now. He’s not coming back,” Smalls said. “Price is free, roaming the streets. He will go back to his family. I got to go about 15 miles to a graveyard to see my son.”
Smalls held up a file folder with a stack of documents which he said was the appeals for Price and spoke about the burden a victim’s family goes through when they receive notification about an update in the case.
“You can be just minding your business just having a good day. Eveything’s going well and you get one of these and then you’re just like turned around all over again,” Smalls said. “I started looking at it as more of a criminal assistance system than a criminal justice system.”
He said what he calls “part two” of their nightmare began on March 15 when they got a call from a victim services advocate notifying them that Price would be released within hours.
“She told us that she has some news that would be hard to take. She proceeded to tell us that Jeroid Price would be released today and we will receive an automated call at 2:30 p.m. This is 11 o’clock and she said 2:30 p.m., you’ll receive a call,” he said.
Smalls said they were told the release would come with no probation, no supervision or restrictions for Price.
He said they have two goals: First, to make sure Price returns to prison, and second, to help bring about changes to the system that will “prevent another family from having to endure this miscarriage of justice.”
Solicitor David Pascoe, who was the prosecutor of the original case, said the attorney representing Price in the sentence reduction is a lawyer-legislator and a member of the Judicial Merit Selection Committee, which selects candidates to run for judicial office.
“Every single solicitor in this state supports the judicial reform that has been put up by these legislators. Think about that,” Pascoe said. “Democrats, Republicans, men, women, black and white, every single solicitor supports this legislation.”
Rep. Joe White (R-Newberry) introduced one of two House bills that would not eliminate the committee but rather change who can serve on it and how its members are selected. Under White’s bill, H.4183, six of the members of the committee would be appointed by the governor, two would be appointed by the House and two by the Senate. None of the appointees could be lawyer-legislators.
“You don’t let foxes guard hen houses. When all your legislators are the people that decide who the judges are going to be, it’s a no-brainer,” White said. “I ask this question: If there isn’t some power situation, what difference does it make who sits on that commission? Why are they so protective of making sure that your legislators remain in power on that? If that doesn’t have any influence, well, then, OK, let’s go, let’s make this change. I think it’s because there’s so much power there, and we’ve got to address that. We’ve got to get rid of that power structure.”
Unsealing of court order led to additional questions
The South Carolina Supreme Court unsealed the release order on April 20. The order, along with additional supporting documents that were not made public state Price helped the Department of Corrections by putting them “on notice” about a dangerous inmate who had escaped. That inmate, Jimmy Lee Causey, escaped from the Lieber Correctional Institute in July 2017 and was captured days later in Texas.
But Department of Corrections spokesperson Chrysi Shain said Price did not notify the agency directly. Instead, he told someone outside of the prison about Causey’s escape and that person told the agency about 18 hours after the escape happened.
Documents also included two affidavits written by an employee and former inmate at Lieber vouching for Price’s good deeds in prison. Among the good deeds were a 2010 incident in which Price reportedly tackled a fellow inmate who was attempting to attack a detention officer and another incident in which Price and a second inmate broke up a fight in which several inmates were attacking another detention officer. The other inmate who helped, Larry Benjamin, said he was awarded parole after that incident but Price was not.
South Carolina Department of Corrections records stated that despite the good behavior, he also had several disciplinary sanctions issued against him. At the time he was released, Price was in a New Mexico prison, which Pascoe alleged was proof of his “horrendous record.”
Attorney General Alan Wilson is seeking a bench warrant to return Price to custody, claiming “proper procedure” did not happen in Price’s release.
“He absolutely should not have been released from prison, and we need to get him back behind bars as quickly as possible,” Wilson said.
Fifth Circuit Solicitor Byron Gipson says Price provided “significant” help to law enforcement.
While state law does require convicted killers to serve 30 years in prison, there is also another law that allows for reduced sentencing for an inmate who assists authorities. The help led the solicitor’s office to file a motion for a formal sentence reduction hearing for Price. Before that hearing could ever happen, Gipson claims an order was issued, which led to Price’s release.
Wilson says Gipson’s statement proved “proper procedure” was not followed.
The order to release Price was signed by now-retired Judge Casey Manning. Manning is no longer listed on the active South Carolina Supreme Court circuit court roster.
Pascoe raised several concerns about the order. He said the order states it was made “upon motion of the solicitor” but Gipson wrote in a statement that his office had not filed a motion before the order was signed.
Pascoe said he believes there was no justification for sealing the order, other than to keep it hidden from the world. He also called the justifications in Price’s release “junk” and was not corroborated by the corrections department.
“No family should have to endure the injustice and renewed pain this has caused the Smalls’ family,” Pascoe said. “Both the House and the Senate have legislation pending that could be passed immediately to improve transparency and remove the undue influence of a handful of lawmakers on the judge-selection process.”
The South Carolina Supreme Court will meet Wednesday to discuss the case. Pascoe said it is unprecedented that the court has acted so quickly before the attorney general’s office could file a motion.
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