SC Supreme Court reverses ruling on murderer’s secret release

The South Carolina Supreme Court is vacating the order that released a convicted killer years before his sentence was up.
Published: Apr. 26, 2023 at 11:24 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 26, 2023 at 8:01 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Supreme Court is vacating the order that released a convicted killer years before his sentence was up.

In a 3-2 decision, the court voted to void Judge Casey Manning’s order to release Jeroid Price, which means Price is ordered to go back to prison.

At the Wednesday hearing, justices, while concerned about the secrecy of the process, pressed both sides about its legal authority to reverse the ruling.

“We’re looking for you to give us something, some authority to do what you’re asking us to do,” Chief Justice Donald Beatty said to Attorney General Alan Wilson. “All you’re doing is saying this is a bad thing. Do something about it. This is a mess that y’all made then you’re asking us to clean it up without giving us grounds to clean it up.”

“The state failed in this process, " Wilson says. “We don’t think there should be an ability in the law for individuals like the judge, a defense attorney and a solicitor or an attorney general, myself included, should never be able to consent or enter into a secret agreement that violates the law and denies people their constitutional rights.”

Justice John Cannon Few also agreed it was something the court was “struggling with.”

Nonetheless, the majority sided with the state and reversed the order.

State Rep. Todd Rutherford, Price’s lawyer, argued that the deal struck between him, Judge Casey Manning and 5th Circuit Solicitor Byron Gipson did not require a hearing.

Before the court, Rutherford argued sending Price back to prison was essentially a death sentence because of his cooperation with the Department of Corrections to alert them of a dangerous, escaped inmate.

He says the order was sealed in order to protect his identity.

“The reason why 17-25-65 was passed in the first place was to encourage cooperation,” Rutherford says. “We do exactly the opposite when we reveal the identity of people that cooperate and they put their lives in jeopardy and we place them back into the Department of Corrections.”

Rutherford also denied that Price was a gang leader for the Bloods.

“That was a story crafted by someone inside the Department of Corrections with absolutely no evidence whatsoever,” he says. “Even the evidence presented at trial was not valid enough to say that he was a gang member.”

Reacting to the vote, Solicitor David Pascoe, who was the prosecutor of the original case, says “Justice has been done today” and was impressed by the Supreme Court’s “swift actions” in this case.

Wilson also reacted similarly to Wednesday’s ruling.

“Secret orders and backroom deals have no place in our justice system,” Wilson says. “I hope this sends a clear message to the people of South Carolina: our procedures matter and no one is above the law.”

There is no official word on where Price is right now.

When asked about his whereabouts, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott remarked it is like “starting from scratch.”

Wilson originally asked the Supreme Court to void the order because he argues the order reducing Price’s sentence is based on no motion being made by the solicitor for a sentence reduction. Wilson cites a section in South Carolina law requiring a motion be filed to the chief judge of the circuit where the case was first tried.

Carl “Dash” Smalls Jr., a West Ashley native and former University of South and North Carolina football player, was gunned down in a 2002 nightclub shooting in Columbia.

Price was convicted the following year and sentenced to 35 years in prison. But Price was suddenly released in March by Judge Manning who ordered the order sealed.

Wilson filed a motion to have that order unsealed, claiming “proper procedure” did not happen in Price’s release.

A release from Solicitor Gipson on April 19 states that the motion for Price’s release was never filed. In the release, Gipson says meetings were held with the defense and the judge to discuss filing the motion, but Price was released before such a motion was filed.

In a response filed by Rutherford, he said that an oral motion was made by Gipson requesting a sentence reduction in late 2022 during a meeting in the chambers of Judge Manning.

Court documents state the defense provided Gipson with a draft of an order to reduce Price’s sentence on Dec. 15, 2022. A final version of the motion was submitted to Manning on Dec. 30, 2022, outside of the presence of Price or his attorneys, and signed the same day, court documents state.

Rutherford’s filing states the statute cited by Wilson does not require out of concern for the safety of the person providing assistance to law enforcement and deter others from providing information.

Rutherford’s filing alleges a hearing and written motion are not required for the order to be valid.

“Therefore, because the statute does not require a hearing and does not require the filing of a written motion, Solicitor Gipson’s failures do not deprive the Court of jurisdiction, and the Order is valid,” court documents state.

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.

READ MORE: Docs: Convicted killer put correctional agency on ‘notice’ about escaped inmate

But Department of Corrections spokesperson Chrysi Shain says 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.”

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.

Family of victim demands action

Dash’s parents, Lillie and Carl Smalls, joined a group of solicitors, sheriffs and lawmakers at the State House lobby Tuesday asking for the General Assembly to take up a judicial reform package.

READ MORE: Victim’s family demands action after convicted murderer’s secret release

“This was a secret, secret deal and unlawful act,” Carl Smalls said Tuesday. “We’re here today to put a face on injustice and you’re looking at it, injustice.”

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.”

READ MORE: Charleston family ‘devasted’ after son’s killer gets early release from prison

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.