The trial against the man accused in the 2014 fatal shooting of Chester City Councilman Odell Williams will move forward Tuesday after a judge denied a defense motion for immunity under the state’s “stand your ground” law.
Christopher Moore, 19, is charged with murder in the November 2014 shooting death of Williams, who was fatally shot in Chester as he followed a truck carrying five gang members who were planning to commit a robbery at a rival gang’s house. Four other defendants are charged with accessory before and after the crime.
Defense lawyers for Moore sought immunity for him under a provision of South Carolina’s “Protection of Persons and Property Act” commonly referred to as the “stand your ground law.” William Frick, 6th Circuit deputy public defender, argued Williams fired multiple gunshots at the pickup while pursuing the men, who “had no intent to further any crime or commit any other crime” after realizing the targets of their alleged robbery were not home.
“My client and his co-defendants were, in fact, the ones being pursued and shot at first,” he said.
During a hearing on the pre-trial motion, Frick called Moore to the stand to explain to the court the events of Nov. 4, 2014.
Moore said he and the others were “going back to get some money from some guys that had owed us money.” He said the money was owed from a botched drug deal. After determining no one was at the Holmes Road home, Moore said, they left and planned to return to a friend’s home to smoke marijuana. They had parked on Featherstone Road and walked across a field to Holmes Road.
Moore described seeing a vehicle following them across town with its high beams flashing, and hearing several gunshots during a lengthy pursuit on Patrick Street, Parkway Drive and Roundtree Circle. At one point, he said, they lost sight of Williams’ Cadillac and Moore tried to get out of the pickup to ditch the rifle he had by throwing it in a ditch. The driver, Quinton McClinton, hit the gas, causing Moore to fall and the gun to fire, he said.
Moore said they all had cellphones but were afraid to call law enforcement because of their prior criminal records and the firearms they had in the truck.
“I had the biggest gun in the car,” he told Julie Hall, 6th Circuit deputy solicitor. “I knew if I threw it on Roundtree Circle, I would come back to it.”
The men made their way to Roundtree Circle because, Moore said, they were familiar with the area and felt that would help them in evading Williams.
Moore said he got out and started running when they got to the entrance of the horseshoe-shaped street.
“Immediately, as soon as I hit the grass, I heard two gunshots and I just started shooting back,” he said, adding that the rifle had a 30-round clip. “I was just shooting out of (being) scared. I was just scared.”
Moore said he never saw Williams get out of the car, and that he wasn’t familiar with the councilman and former police officer except for reading a news story about Williams’ arrest for threatening a public official.
Shortly after his arrest, Moore requested to speak with an investigator, and the two spoke more than 40 minutes, Hall said Monday. During that interview, Moore made more than 30 statements denying any involvement in Williams’ death.
“I was paranoid, I was scared,” Moore said when asked why he didn’t tell the investigator about Williams shooting at them. “I was 18 at the time, (facing) a murder charge. I did not know what to do.”
Hall voiced doubt over Moore’s fear of Williams because he said he got out of the truck and planned to throw away the rifle.
“I would submit to the court he’s not really that scared,” she said. “He’s trying to get rid of the biggest gun in the car. That would be something you’d want to hold onto if you were truly afraid for your life.”
Circuit Court Judge Paul Burch also denied a defense motion to exclude references to the would-be robbery before Williams’ shooting but sided with the defense on not referencing gangs during the trial, asking the state to “leave the gang business alone.”
Burch denied a defense motion asking that the words “assault rifle” not be used, and declined to rule on a state motion excluding references to Williams’ arrest in March 2014 for allegedly threatening former Chester Police Chief Andre Williams.
The trial was moved to Fairfield County after a judge ruled Moore could not get a fair trial in Chester County due to the amount of pre-trial publicity the case received. Opening statements are expected to begin Tuesday morning.