Sixteenth Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett said this week his office is "not anywhere near" deciding whether to seek the death penalty against Christian McCall, charged in the January shooting of four York County law enforcement officers. Brackett said his investigation is not complete.
"South Carolina law has several aggravating factors that can justify a death penalty prosecution, and a murder charge where the victim is a law enforcement official is one of them," Brackett said.
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State law enforcement agents are handling the investigation because the victim is a police officer.
Forensic testing and other evidence collection are ongoing, Brackett said.
"We have to review all the materials, all the evidence," Brackett said. "Not just some of it. All of it."
Brackett declined to discuss details of the case.
However, he said his office has a process in deciding whether the death penalty will be sought.
Once the decision is made, only a jury can sentence a person to death. The jury must find the defendant guilty. After that, the same jury must decide whether a defendant will spend his life in prison or be sentenced to death.
Brackett said a decision to seek death, for his office, means there must be no question the defendant is guilty. Any death penalty case must satisfy for Brackett that the defendant's guilt is "for all practical purposes a foregone conclusion."
When the SLED investigation is complete, Brackett said McCall and his defense lawyers will be given all the investigative materials. That is called "discovery" in the legal system and all defendants, including McCall, are entitled to it.
"The accused has every right to all the material and will get it," Brackett said.
McCall's lawyer is Harry Dest, 16th circuit chief public defender. He said his office will conduct its own investigation. He declined to comment on the potential death penalty prosecution.
McCall, 47, a former Wells Fargo employee with no other criminal record except for a 1994 arrest in Florence, was appointed a public defender on March 16 when he was formally charged with murder, three counts of attempted murder, four weapons charges and domestic violence. Three York County deputies and one York city officer were shot.
Police were called to McCall's home on Jan. 15. Legal documents say he beat up his wife by smashing her head against a brick.
Warrants say McCall then took two guns, including a high-powered rifle, and fled his home. Early on Jan. 16, warrants say, McCall "did lie in wait" when he first shot Sgt. Randy Clinton. Then McCall shot three SWAT members, including Doty, who died the next day.
When the SLED investigation is complete, Brackett said, he will speak to the victims, which include Doty's family and the sheriff's office.
Prosecutors will explain how a a death penalty prosecution could be a years-long process, Brackett said.
There have been two people sentenced to death in York County in the 1990s. One, Mar-Reece Hughes, was sentenced to death in 1995 for the 1992 killing of York County deputy Brent McCants.
"The family, the victims, have to understand all of the process," Brackett said.
Myra McCants, the deputies mother, said she is frustrated her son's convicted killer has not yet been executed but still fully supports the decision by prosecutors in 1995 to seek the death penalty.
"My son got the death penalty when he was killed," she said. "The killer should get it, too."
Doty's family has declined to comment.
York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson and York Police Department Chief Andy Robinson each said they support prosecutors seeking the death penalty.
"This was obviously a horrific act on people who are sworn to protect the safety and well-being of the public," Tolson said. "This is an attack not only on the officers, but on the rule of law."
Robinson said: "In my opinion there is nothing that can be done to this person to equal the devastation that he has caused to so many, but I find comfort in the fact that one day God will make him pay for his actions."
Brackett said there is no timeline on when a decision will be made. Brackett alone, as the elected solicitor, will make the decision.
If his office decides to seek the death penalty, prosecutors will notify McCall and his lawyers in writing that the death penalty will be sought. A court hearing will be held to read the notice to McCall.
Brackett said he understands the public wants answers about what happened, but that time is not here yet because of the ongoing investigation.
"I know people, the public, want to know what happened," Brackett said. "Everybody wants to know what happened. But this is a big investigation."
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065, @AndrewDysHerald