A Lancaster County jury on Wednesday found Coy Knight guilty of arson for the fire that destroyed a Lancaster grocery store last year – and the case was tried entirely in his absence.
Knight was tried on a charge of third-degree arson for the Oct. 22, 2014 fire at the Old Mill Grocery. His trial was supposed to begin Monday but, S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal canceled all state court proceedings for Monday, due to flooding around the state.
Sixth Circuit Assistant Solicitor Luke Knight – who is not related to the defendant – said Coy Knight was present Monday when his trial was originally scheduled but, he didn’t show up Tuesday for the postponed start.
“We proceeded with trial in his absence Tuesday,” Luke Knight said. The proceedings finished around noon Wednesday.
Under S.C. law, a defendant is not required to be present for a trial. If a case is tried in a defendant’s absence and he or she is found guilty, the judge seals the sentence.
“The sentence will be opened once the defendant is brought into custody,” Luke Knight said, adding that it’s rare for a case to be tried in a defendant’s absence, particularly in General Sessions court where more serious charges are brought.
Court officials do not know Coy Knight’s “whereabouts,” Luke Knight said. But, he said there have been attempts to find him.
The Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, the State Law Enforcement Division and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives all investigated the 2014 fire. Officials said the store had multiple surveillance cameras around the outside and the video recording system was still intact after the fire.
Cameras captured the suspect setting the fire. Luke Knight said investigators obtained search warrants for Coy Knight’s home, which was nearby, and authorities found clothing matching the man seen in the grocery store’s surveillance video footage.