A York County coroner's jury will convene Monday to consider whether a Rock Hill woman killed in 2001 was a victim of suicide or murder.
York County Coroner Sabrina Gast sought the inquest because of questions surrounding the shooting death of Melissa Huntley Motz at a Rock Hill apartment community.
Motz, 35, was shot under the chin on Feb. 16, 2001, while sitting in the passenger seat of her husband's Ford Thunderbird on Dutchman Drive. Her husband, James "Jimmy" Motz, who has a history of domestic violence, told police his wife shot herself an hour after the couple argued at a Charlotte strip club.
Then-coroner Doug McKown said Melissa Motz's wounds were consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot. Her death certificate indicates McKown's initial ruling on the manner of death was pending. He later changed the cause of death to "could not be determined."
Rock Hill police reports indicated it was possible Jimmy Motz killed his wife, but the 16th Circuit Solicitor's Office decided not to prosecute, citing insufficient evidence. Current Solicitor Kevin Brackett and his predecessor, Tommy Pope, have said they didn't have enough evidence to convince a jury she was murdered.
During this week's inquest, six jurors will evaluate old and new evidence. A coroner's inquest jury can consider four main possible rulings: natural death, accidental death, homicide or suicide. The inquest, to be held at the Moss Justice Center, could last three days.
Gast's list of 26 potential witnesses includes Jimmy Motz, the brother of York County Council chairman Buddy Motz.
Larry Huntley, Melissa's father, has maintained she did not kill herself. He and his wife, Patsy, have pushed officials to revisit the case.
"We look at it as a long, tearful journey that's maybe coming to an end," Huntley said. "We look for the truth to come out, and I think the truth was that my daughter was murdered."
The Huntleys' questions spurred Gast to review the case. She decided to have evidence re-examined using more advanced technologies, including blood spatter and DNA analysis.
"There were a lot of questions I had as to how she died," Gast has said. "I felt like we may be able to find some of those answers with the new forensic technology available."
After the inquest, it will be up to solicitors to review the jury's findings and decide whether to pursue charges.
16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett said he already reviewed the case at the Huntleys' urging. He also asked the solicitor's office in Spartanburg County to evaluate the case. In a letter dated last May, Deputy 7th Circuit Solicitor Barry Barnette agreed insufficient evidence exists to support murder or manslaughter charges.
Barnette reviewed the Rock Hill police file as well as transcripts from a civil trial. He studied witness statements, evidence from the crime scene and testimony from a pathologist in a civil trial to support his decision. That expert, Dr. Earl Jenkins Jr., testified that the case could be consistent with either suicide or homicide, but he could not determine it.
The civil trial was held after Larry and Patsy Huntley sued Jimmy Motz. The jury awarded the Huntleys $25,000.
Jimmy Motz' arrest record from the State Law Enforcement Division shows he was convicted of two assault charges, two assault and battery charges and one criminal domestic violence charge in the 1980s.