Rock Hill man facing rape charges in Fla. granted $500,000 bond

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comJuly 17, 2013 

Almost a year after he was extradited to Florida when police say DNA linked him with a decades-old rape, a Rock Hill man who once ran for city mayor received a half-million dollar bond that still prevents him from returning to South Carolina.

Baxter Tisdale, 50, has been charged with two counts of armed sexual battery, burglary with an assault and battery while armed, and armed robbery with a weapon.

Last August, York County drug agents arrested him at his Walnut Street home in Rock Hill, charging him as a fugitive after investigators with the Miami-Dade Police Department said Tisdale’s DNA matched an unsolved 1986 rape in the department’s cold case files.

Tisdale was extradited to Miami, where he has remained in jail without bond until last week when he and his lawyer appeared before a judge for an Arthur hearing, a Florida statute in which a judge decides whether to set bond on a defendant charged with normally non-bondable offenses.

During those hearings, a judge must decide if prosecutors have “proof evident, presumption great” of a defendant’s guilt, a standard higher than proof beyond a reasonable doubt, said Natalie Snyder, lead prosecutor on the case.

In the bond phase, the judge also decides if the defendant is a flight risk or danger to the community. Even if a judge rules there is enough evidence for prosecution, he can still grant bond.

Last Tuesday, 11th Circuit Court Judge William Thomas agreed that the state had enough evidence to prosecute Tisdale. Still, he granted Tisdale a $500,000 bond and placed him under house arrest, Snyder said.

“It’s a really high bond,” said Christopher Dunham, Tisdale’s Miami defense attorney, adding that he was unsure if Tisdale would be able to post the bond, given that he must provide $50,000 cash plus collateral.

Tisdale remained jailed Wednesday at the Metro West Detention Center in Miami. He faces either 12 to 17 years in prison, or nine to 22 years in prison, Snyder said. If convicted, he will be penalized based on 1986 sentencing guidelines.

Though he has a bond, Tisdale is unable to leave Florida because he is under “total lockdown,” Dunham said. “He can’t leave his house at all, except to go see his lawyer or go to court.”

Tisdale, a Miami native, has several family members in the area, including his father, brother, sister-in-law and a brother-in-law, Dunham said.

Those relatives appeared in court during Tisdale’s bond hearing, arguing that the former mayoral candidate who once advocated for the creation of the “Tisdaleian” political party has strong ties to the community, Dunham said.

“He has never been convicted of anything very violent like this,” he said, adding that most of Tisdale’s criminal history in Miami consists of misdemeanors.

Tisdale’s criminal history in South Carolina includes convictions for a violent burglary, a felony, and three counts of theft of electric current. He also received charges for: petty larceny, breach of trust with fraudulent intent, driving under suspension, driving without a license, driving without insurance and receiving money by false pretenses.

Tisdale moved to Rock Hill in the early 1990s. In 1999, he ran for the Ward I City Council seat but lost to longtime incumbent Councilman Winston Searles. He received only nine votes.

Two years later, he unsuccessfully ran against incumbent Mayor Doug Echols.

Court documents and police investigators accuse Tisdale of two rapes in the same Miami neighborhood in 1986 in which he allegedly broke into women’s homes and raped them at knifepoint while their children were present.

DNA was collected from both rapes but remained untouched in the police department’s crime lab, a Miami-Dade detective told The Herald a year ago. For more than 20 years, both rapes remained unsolved.

In 2006, Miami-Dade police formed a cold case squad. Those detectives in 2009 reopened an April 1986 rape file and entered the DNA in a Federal Bureau of Investigation DNA index system.

The DNA matched Tisdale’s, affidavits state. Police spoke with the victim, who identified Tisdale as someone she knew from her neighborhood.

Authorities arrested Tisdale in May 2009, charging him with sexual battery and burglary in the assault. Police extradited Tisdale to Miami, where he remained in jail for two years until the case was dismissed when the victim could not be found, Dunham said.

Last summer, DNA turned up a match for Tisdale when police opened the file from the first rape in February 1986. Police spoke with the victim in that attack, who positively identified Tisdale as her rapist from a photo line-up, according to court documents.

The victim told police she knew him in the past from “the neighborhood,” an affidavit states. She claimed that she and Tisdale had never been in a consensual intimate relationship. She recounted the events of her 1986 rape, which were consistent with a report police took after the attack.

But, according to Tisdale’s lawyer, Tisdale and the woman had been in a relationship and the sex was consensual.

Tisdale “absolutely” denies the allegations, Dunham said, and “the defense will say it was consensual sex … witnesses will say they knew each other and had a relationship.”

Dunham also said the victim’s sister was married to Tisdale’s cousin.

Last week, prosecutors motioned to have evidence from the closed 2009 case introduced as evidence in Tisdale’s current case, Snyder said.

That motion, called Williams Rule, allows prosecutors to introduce evidence from past alleged crimes they believe is relevant into a current case. The evidence must specficially prove motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity or absence of mistakes or accident, but it can be used to demonstrate habits, tendencies or bad behavior, according to the law.

Prosecutors would not comment about which of those standards they aimed to show, but Snyder did say that both rape victims testified during the hearing.

The judge will make a ruling Monday gauging whether the state’s evidence is admissible.

Tisdale’s criminal trial is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 23.

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

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