CHESTERFIELD — The criminal case against the son of a sheriff’s deputy accused of murder will be handled by a special prosecutor.
The Chronicle has learned that Ernest “Chip” Finney III, of Sumter County, has been tapped to prosecute the case. Finney is the solicitor of the Third Judicial Circuit in South Carolina.
Graham Franklin Douglas, 32, of 1311 Jackson Road West, Chesterfield, is accused of gunning down Charles Eden Smith, 27, of 5869 Teals Mill Road, Chesterfield, on the evening of May 31 at his home. The killing occurred about 6:30 p.m. after the men argued, according to a three-page incident report of the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office.
Douglas, a former law clerk, was arrested on charges of murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, according to arrest warrants.
The S.C. Attorney General’s Office last week assigned Finney as the special prosecutor in the case, according to Chesterfield County Solicitor Will Rogers. In exchange, Rogers’ office will be handling prosecution of a case from Sumter.
“My understanding is that we were assigned a case that he (Finney) had a conflict of interest on. Every now and again we swap them up … every solicitor has too many cases on their docket, and this kind of balances it out,” Rogers said.
Not only has a special prosecutor been named to the Douglas case, but the accused man is being held outside of Chesterfield County. Douglas is behind bars at the Marlboro County Detention Center in Bennettsville, according to Earl Hood, jail administrator. Douglas is being housed at the Marlboro County facility at the request of Chesterfield County officials, said Hood. No other information about the case is available from Marlboro County.
The murder remains under investigation by state lawmen.
The homicide investigation was turned over to the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) because Douglas is the son of Leon Douglas, who is employed by the Sheriff’s Office. Leon Douglas works security at the Chesterfield County Courthouse.
Leon Douglas was also present at the scene of the murder when the first officers arrived, according to the incident report.
Typically, a homicide case in Chesterfield County would be prosecuted by the Chesterfield County Solicitor’s Office, and the bond hearing and subsequent trial would he heard by Circuit Court Judge Paul Burch, in most cases. In this case, however, Graham Douglas — the defendant — at one time worked as a law clerk for Judge Burch, according to courthouse officials.
“Burch won’t be able to hear any of this case,” Rogers said.
Unless a visiting judge is available, Judge Howard King, a retired but active judge who handles some cases within the Fourth Circuit, may be called on to hear matters involving the Douglas case, according to Rogers.
Rogers said he doesn’t think Judge Burch formally recused himself from the Douglas case, however, “He’s made it clear — verbally — that he can’t have anything to do with the case.”
The conflicts of interest in this matter, which have led to the naming of the special prosecutor, have also served to complicate the process of proceeding with the case against Douglas. At one point last week, the Chronicle was told by a courthouse staffer that Douglas’ case had been transferred to Darlington County. A call placed with the Darlington County Clerk of Courts on Monday found that was not true.
Repeated attempts by the Chronicle to determine the bond status of Douglas proved unsuccessful. Representatives of the Sheriff’s Office and SLED have refused to discuss anything about the case.
Melvin Wayne Cockrell III, a private attorney in Chesterfield, is listed as Douglas’ lawyer, according to the Fourth Circuit Court’s website. A call placed to Cockrell by the Chronicle regarding this case was not returned by deadline.
Rogers said he believes Cockrell, acting on behalf of his client, waived Douglas’ right to an early bond hearing. In homicide cases, defendants can be held in custody without bond, after a judge makes that determination.
In this criminal case it is very likely, due to the multiple conflicts of interests, that a visiting judge will handle any bond hearing and trial, if Douglas is indicted on the charges by the grand jury, according to Rogers.
The case against Douglas will all unfold inside the Chesterfield County Courthouse, Rogers said, no matter where Douglas might be incarcerated. Finney, as special prosecutor, will take the matter before a Chesterfield County grand jury. If Douglas is indicted, the case will be set for a circuit court trial in Chesterfield County.
Based on the initial incident report filed in the case, the following is what lawmen discovered on May 31:
At 6:38 p.m., three sheriff’s officers — a corporal and two deputies — were dispatched to the Douglas residence, a one-story white home in a small residential neighborhood, in reference to a shooting.
The officers, unsure of the location of the reported shooting, pulled into the driveway of 1331 Jackson Road West, the report said. A white female was pointing to the house next door.
The officers exited their vehicles and walked to the back of the residence a 1311 Jackson Road West.
“I saw Graham Douglas and his father Leon Douglas standing in the back yard,” the corporal wrote in the incident report.
“When I approached them I asked Graham what was going on. His answer to me was that he came at me with a gun and I shot him. I asked who came at him and he stated Eden .
“While I was talking with Graham I could smell a strong odor a alcohol and he appeared to be highly intoxicated.
“I then asked both Leon and Graham where the victim was and Leon stated that he was in the house,” the report said.
The deputy then proceeded toward the home, while the other two deputies detained Graham, read him his Miranda rights and placed him in a patrol vehicle, according to the report.
The corporal continued in the report: “I then walked into the residence and saw Eden Smith laying in the kitchen floor with what appeared to be a gunshot wound to his upper left chest area.” Smith was not moving, the corporal said, and when First Health responders entered the home they confirmed that Smith was dead, the report said.
At that time, the corporal wrote, they notified investigators and secured the crime scene until they arrived.
The report does not offer any details as to how the crime scene was secured, and makes no mention of the type of firearms involved or if the weapons were found and collected into evidence.
The report does not even identify what type of gun the victim was shot with.
The incident report includes the written narrative of one of the deputies on the scene, whose report matches identically with the corporal’s narrative, including finding Leon Douglas standing in the backyard with his son, Graham, and Graham’s comment, “he came at me with a gun and I shot him.” When asked who, Graham replied, “Eden ,” the report goes on.
The corporal then asked both Graham and Leon where the victim was at, and Leon said, “In the house,” the deputy wrote.
The second deputy did not write in the report.