Beaufort murder trial collapses, officials quiet on new evidence

mmcnab@beaufortgazette.comApril 24, 2014 

Pictured from left: Tyrone Robinson, 38; Robert Ferguson, attorney for Aaron Scott Young Sr; Young Sr., 37; and Aaron Scott Young Jr., 20, prepare to leave a courtroom at the Beaufort County Courthouse on Wednesday after their trial was continued due to the introduction of new evidence. Officials accuse the Youngs and Robinson of the murder of 8-year-old Khalil Singleton on Hilton Head Island.

THEOPHIL SYSLO — Beaufort Gazette

A day after the trial of three Hilton Head Island men charged with the murder of 8-year-old Khalil Singleton collapsed when new evidence suddenly surfaced, officials provided little information about the fresh evidence, including why it didn’t come to light sooner.

Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone, the prosecutor, said he could not comment on the new evidence.

“It is improper for me to speak about evidence in a pending murder case,” Stone said in a voicemail Thursday.

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner, who previously has declined to comment on the case for the same reason, did not return phone calls Thursday seeking details about the evidence. Described in court only as video and audio recordings, the existence of the new evidence was disclosed in court Tuesday morning, just as the trial for the three accused men — Tyrone Robinson, Aaron Young Sr., and his son, Aaron Young Jr. — was getting underway.

Robinson and the Youngs exchanged gunfire on Sept. 1, 2012, on Allen Road, just off Marshland Road. A bullet fired by Robinson tore into Singleton’s torso and fatally wounded him, authorities have said. The event stunned the community because a child died as a result of a gunfight in a quiet neighborhood in broad daylight.

The recordings, made by investigating deputies shortly after Singleton died, weren’t included with other evidence prosecutors have shared with defense attorneys earlier. Prosecutors and defense attorneys apparently learned about the recordings late Monday or early Tuesday. When court convened on Tuesday morning, Circuit Court Judge Thomas Cooper announced the trial would be delayed a day so that lawyers could evaluate the recordings. But when court reconvened Wednesday morning, the judge said the trial was delayed indefinitely.

Roberts Vaux, Young Jr.’s attorney, said the recordings included audio from body microphones worn by Sheriff’s Office deputies. Vaux said some of the audio appeared to be from a traffic stop of Young Sr.’s Ford F-150 soon after Singleton was shot, but it was hard to tell because the audio wasn’t synchronized with video.

Robert Ferguson, Young Sr.’s attorney, said another portion of the four hours’ of recordings were from Young Sr.’s interview with Sheriff’s Office investigators.

Since the trial’s postponement, no information has come out about how the recordings were discovered — or why they weren’t submitted as evidence sooner. Defense attorneys had previously asked for all recordings and interviews authorities had with the three defendants, Ferguson said.

Ferguson suggested that because so many people worked on the case, the recordings might simply and inadvertently have fallen through the cracks.

“These things happen sometimes, but luckily we got the recordings,” he said.

Vaux said he didn’t think the recordings were intentionally withheld by the Solicitor’s Office or Sheriff’s Office.

“I’ve known Duffie and P.J. for a long time,” he said. “Neither of them would tolerate hiding stuff. They’re just not that kind of people.”

Neither Vaux nor Ferguson could provide detailed information about how the tapes finally turned up.

Defense attorneys had asked the Solicitor’s Office to produce a handwritten statement from Britney Brinson, a nurse and second cousin of Singleton who performed CPR on him after he was shot. On Tuesday morning, they were given Brinson’s statement — accompanied by the recordings.

So far, the recordings have not been made public or played in open court. Ferguson and Vaux both said Thursday they were still reviewing them to determine whether or not to use them in their pre-trial motions.

Ferguson had called on a forensic psychiatry expert to testify Monday that Young Sr. had been coerced into helping the Sheriff’s Office. He said Thursday the expert would need time to review the new recordings to see how they would affect Young Sr.’s claim of coercion.

Looking ahead, the three defendants will be tried separately — not in a single case as had been planned. It was unclear when the new trials would begin. Robinson’s case is expected to go to trial first, Ferguson said. Attempts to reach Robinson’s public defender for comment Thursday were unsuccessful. The public defender, Arie Bax, is assisting Robinson, who is representing himself in court.

Vaux said he thought the cases could return to court in June or July, depending on the availability of the judge and witnesses.

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