For 12 years, Larry Huntley of Fort Mill has wondered about the justice system. His daughter, Melissa Huntley Motz, died from a gunshot to the head in Rock Hill in 2001.
Huntley watched the Florida case of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin unfold. Zimmerman was found not guilty after he shot and killed Martin.
Without Zimmerman’s gun, Huntley said, there would have been no death. No child is dead.
Just like when his daughter died. No gun, no death.
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The man with Melissa Motz that night was her husband, James Motz. Prosecutors, local and state, have always maintained since 2001 that there was not enough evidence to charge James Motz with murder or anything else.
But, Huntley points out, at least Zimmerman “was charged and the case was heard in a criminal court. James Motz was never charged with any crime in my daughter getting killed. We never had our day in a criminal court.”
Huntley’s lawyer, Dennis Bolt, said for years, and still does, that he wanted James Motz charged in Melissa Motz’s death.
“Absolutely,” Bolt said Wednesday.
James Motz was not charged with any crime in connection to his wife’s death even though he admitted he and his wife argued that night and that he fired at least four shots in the air. He was a convicted felon with a documented history of abusing women, testimony showed.
James Motz was ordered to pay $25,000 in damages for his role in Melissa Motz’s death, after Larry Huntley filed a 2005 wrongful death civil lawsuit against him.
James Motz served federal prison time for possession of a weapon by a convicted felon from the incident. But nothing else.
Larry Huntley, now 76, has put fresh flowers on his daughter’s grave every Sunday for 12 years.
“I wanted the system to do what it is supposed to do,” Huntley said. “Justice.”
Bolt, himself a former prosecutor, said Wednesday that Larry Huntley, no different than the family of Trayvon Martin, wanted his day in criminal court. He would live with the outcome.
The question of whether George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin was decided in court, where it should have been. Zimmerman had a gun. Martin did not. No matter who started the fracas between him and Martin, Zimmerman used the gun. A teen died.
Prosecutors in Florida, after police initially did not charge Zimmerman, indicted Zimmerman without a grand jury. He went to trial. He was found not guilty by a jury.
“The jury system we have is the best system of justice in the world,” Bolt said. “We have to remember that. That’s what happened in Florida.”
The family of Touna Xiong from Rock Hill knows the system of justice, or a semblance of justice. Xiong, a Hmong refugee, was killed by a hunter in Chester County. The hunter, Stephen Hawkins, was brought to trial in 2012 for negligent use of a gun. Nobody ever said it was a murder but there was clearly a death by a gun.
“We have a statute, a law, for just that case and we took him to trial on that charge,” said Sixth Circuit Solicitor Doug Barfield, the prosecutor for Chester and Lancaster counties.
Hawkins was convicted and sentenced to the minimum under the law – 90 days in jail. He served it on weekends.
Xiong’s family also received a $50,000 wrongful death settlement in civil court from Hawkins’ insurance company, court records show.
That is what the Xiong family got in justice for the death of Tuona Xiong. 90 days served on weekends and less money than a new sports car costs.
Chao Xiong, Tuona Xiong’s sister, said there are similarities between what her family went through in seeking justice, and the Zimmerman case.
“It all has to do with guns, the usage of guns,” Chao Xiong said. “It all comes down to guns.”
In 2012, former Major League Baseball player Danny Clyburn, unarmed, was shot and killed in Lancaster by lifelong friend and convicted felon Derrick McIlwain.
McIlwain admitted the shooting in a court hearing earlier this year, but he and his lawyer said McIlwain should not be prosecuted because he should have immunity under South Carolina’s “stand your ground” law.
McIlwain claimed to fear for his life from an unarmed man – Clyburn.
Just like Zimmerman claimed.
There was an argument. Just like Zimmerman.
McIlwain still faces a murder charge and his case is languishing in the system. No trial date will be set until the “stand your ground” issue is resolved. McIlwain’s lawyer has appealed a judge’s ruling that McIlwain’s case does not fit under “stand your ground.”
The state Supreme Court two weeks ago halted a Columbia-area murder case until it could make a ruling on South Carolina’s “stand your ground” law.
That ruling “might give some clarity how to go forward” in McIlwain’s case, Barfield said.
Latonia Samuel, Clyburn’s ex-wife, said Wednesday that she and her son and daughter have watched what happened in Florida. The family is still not sure what will happen to the man charged with taking away their husband and father.
“But I do know,” Latonia Samuel said, “that Danny was shot by a man with a gun.”