Midlands murder trial begins without a body located

Published: Apr. 15, 2008 at 11:13 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 28, 2008 at 6:01 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Tuesday, parents took the stand in an unusual Midlands murder trial. Their son, Shelton Sanders, has been missing for almost seven years.

Prosecutors began trying to prove Sanders was shot to death even though his body has never been found.

Mark Anthony Richardson is on trial for murder. He's on trial even though prosecutors have no crime scene, no eyewitnesses to a killing, no weapon, and no body.

Solicitor Barney Giese says that won't stop him from proving his case. "The state submits Mark Richardson convicts himself with his statements."

Richardson is charged in the June 2001 disappearance of 25-year-old Shelton Sanders, a USC student who lived with his parents in Rembert, making daily trips to Columbia to attend classes and work part-time with computers - until the night he met with Richardson to scout hotel rooms for an upcoming bachelor party, until the sound of gunshots in an Olympia neighborhood.

Freidna Wessinger heard those shots. In court, Wessinger said there were three "very repetitive" shots, "just, pow, pow, pow."

Sanders hasn't been seen since. His mother Peggy Sanders was one of many who carried on a fruitless search in the years that followed. "I just kept trying and trying. And then later on, Wednesday night, I started calling all the hospitals. I have relatives in Georgia and in Sumter and so I started calling hospitals as far as Jacksonville, Florida."

Sanders' father - a longtime Sumter County judge - says he called Richardson a few days after Shelton disappeared, and was stunned by Richardson's attitude. "He said he was not going to talk to me because I was an [expletive] judge."

Investigators zeroed in on Richardson as former friends described a man suspicious of those around him. Former friend Wesley Young uses the word "scary ... like I said he made it seem like individuals were out to get him, like we had some type of like hidden agenda."

But Richardson's attorneys say the state can't even prove Sanders is dead.

Defense attorney I.S. Leevy Johnson says, "The prosecution is contending that this is a murder case. We contend that this is a missing persons case."

Another witness says around the time Sanders disappeared, Richardson called him to ask if he was interested in buying a .38 caliber handgun.

The state's case is circumstantial but the fact that Sanders has never been located does not rule out the possibility of a murder conviction. You might recall the 2003 trial of Jeffrey Weston - found guilty of killing his mother five years earlier in Richland County. Authorities did not locate her remains until January.

The Richardson trial continues Wednesday.

Reported by Jack Kuenzie

Posted by Chantelle Janelle