Hotly contested tow-truck driver murder trial to begin Monday in Beaufort

rlurye@islandpacket.comJune 15, 2014 

— The trial of a tow-truck driver charged with manslaughter more than three years ago is set to begin Monday here.

Jury selection will begin for Preston Oates, 30, accused of shooting 34-year-old Carlos Olivera of Bluffton on Christmas Eve 2010 following a dispute over the victim’s booted minivan.

Defense attorney Don Colongeli said he and fellow defense lawyer Jared Newman, along with the prosecution, have been prepared for trial for several months. He declined further comment on Friday. Attempts to reach 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone were unsuccessful.

The three years since the shooting have included lengthy appeals, a settlement in a civil lawsuit and changes to Oates’ bond status.

A jury will now decide what happens next.

THE SHOOTING

On Christmas Eve 2010, Oates was making the rounds through Bluffton’s Edgefield community when he booted Carlos Olivera’s van, which was parked incorrectly outside the home of his brother, Nelson Olivera, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.

An argument between the two escalated.

Carlos Olivera, who had a concealed weapon permit, showed Oates a gun he was carrying.

Oates retrieved a gun from his truck and shot Carlos Olivera six times – four times in the back – according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Nelson Olivera, who declined to comment Friday, witnessed the incident and told investigators his brother never pointed his gun at Oates.

Oates’ attorneys argue their client acted in self-defense.

After the shooting, Oates told a gathering crowd of neighbors and family, “Feliz Navidad,” Stone said after the incident.

BOND CHANGES

On January 28, 2011, Oates was denied bond on a manslaughter charge, which carries a sentence of two to 30 years in prison.

Circuit Court Judge Craig Brown sided with Stone, who told the judge he had no doubt Oates was a danger to the community because of evidence and eyewitness statements collected after Olivera was killed.

Oates was indicted on the manslaughter charge the following month. He was also indicted on a charge of possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, which carries a mandatory five-year sentence.

In March 2011, Oates attempted to break out of the Beaufort County Detention Center by scraping away at his cell window with a metal light switch cover, according to the jail director. Oates was placed on suicide watch before being sent to disciplinary segregation for 60 days.

On July 28, 2011, over the objections of Olivera’s family, Judge Thomas Cooper granted Oates a bond of $200,000, pending a psychiatric evaluation. He was soon released and placed on house arrest.

“(Oates is) sick. He makes me so sick,” Olivera’s widow, Zabdi, told Cooper during the hearing. “My kids wake up every morning crying because they have dreams about what happened.”

In November 2012, the Solicitor’s Office sought to revoke his bond. The office said he violated the terms of his house arrest after a computer in his father’s house was linked to a fake Match.com profile set up for Sheriff P.J. Tanner.

The computer was also linked to more than 100 online comments posted to The Island Packet website that appeared to have been posted by Tanner’s wife, then-Bluffton Police Capt. Angela McCall-Tanner. The username, “A.M.T.” included a picture of McCall-Tanner.

Cellphone calls were also made from places Oates was not allowed to be, the Solicitor’s Office said.

His defense attorneys said his father made the calls. They also said the house where Oates was staying did not have secure Internet connection, so anyone could have created the dating profile and made the online comments.

The judge ruled Oates could remain free to work – with electronic monitoring – though Colongeli says he has struggled to find employment because of the severity of the charges against him and the notoriety the case has brought him.

LAWSUIT SETTLED

Zabdi Olivera settled a lawsuit in July 2013 against Oates and several co-defendants for $1.75 million.

She accused Oates, the Edgefield Homeowners Association, IMC Resort Services and Pro-Tow LLC of negligence in relation to overly aggressive enforcement of parking rules, which led to the death of her husband.

It’s not clear how much money, if any, came from Oates.

TRIAL DELAY

On July 28, 2011, Oates’ attorneys requested their client be granted immunity under the state’s Castle Doctrine, which gives residents the right to protect themselves, their families and others in their homes, businesses and vehicles.

That motion was not resolved until August 2013, when the S.C. Supreme Court ruled that Castle Doctrine appeals should not delay the start of a trial, and that those convicted could still appeal their guilty verdicts.

The S.C. Court of Appeals then ruled Oates should stand trial.

Colongeli, Oates’ lawyer, has said he thinks justice will prevail and his client will be found not guilty.

“We’re extremely confident and anxious to get this in court,” he said.

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