Five witnesses presented by an attorney defending a 15-year-old facing a possible future trial as an adult in a near-fatal Five Points beating last summer testified Tuesday the youth was a “role model,” had “high intelligence” and was a better-than-average student who studied the Bible.
“We had big plans for him,” testified Columbia High School head football coach Kemper Amick. “He was a hard worker and always had a smile on his face.”
Amick said he had worked with the teen when he was a member of the St Andrews Middle School football team and was looking forward to having him try out for a running back position on the Columbia High School football team.
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But June 20, the youth was one of eight young men — all but one under 17 — charged in connection with the random nighttime beating of Carter Strange, an 18-year-old Dreher High School graduate who was jogging back to his home near Five Points.
The youths left Strange for dead, unconscious and bleeding from massive head and face injuries. Police have said he survived his injuries only because passersby found him and called an ambulance. The crime attracted national attention.
The State does not normally identify juveniles charged with crimes, and their identities are kept confidential by law, although the court proceedings are open to the public.
But in Tuesday’s pretrial hearing at the Richland County courthouse, 5th Circuit prosecutors were trying to persuade Family Court Judge Robert Armstrong to try the 15-year old as an adult, while defense attorney Jack Swerling is petitioning to keep the juvenile’s case in Family Court.
The youth is charged with assault and battery by mob second degree, strong armed robbery and conspiracy.
The hearing is expected to conclude today.
Tuesday, the youth — wearing civilian clothes, manacled hand and foot and escorted by sheriff’s deputies — sat at the defense table. His parents were with him.
If found guilty in adult, or General Sessions court, the youth could be sentenced to prison for years. If found guilty in Family Court, the youth could get off with probation or — at worst — be sentenced to up to 36 months in juvenile detention facilities with numerous juvenile rehabilitation programs available.
Since June 23, the youth has been in custody, mostly in the juvenile ward at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, witnesses testified.
There, he has continued his high school studies, performing at a level high enough to make honor roll, and has been a model prisoner, helping guards and his fellow young prisoners alike, jail officials testified.
“I would classify him as a model student. He has never given any problems in class,” said liberal arts teacher Linda Jones, who has been teaching at the jail. Other students seek him out, she noted, and he recently was awarded a certificate for reading and being knowledgeable about 20 books not part of the regular English courses.
In cross-examination, prosecutor Dolly Justice Garfield had just one question.
“Mrs. Jones, were you in Five Points the night Carter Strange was viciously assaulted,” asked Garfield.
“No,” said Jones.
“That’s all,” said Garfield.
Joseph Harris, a longtime psychologist and expert witness, testified he had researched the youth’s family history and given him extensive psychological and intelligence tests.
Although the parents are divorced, they communicate with each other and take an interest in him, Harris testified. The youth has no criminal record, no history of drugs or alcohol, is of good intelligence, helps with chores in the house without being asked, is articulate, goal-oriented and wants to go to Virginia Tech and play football, he said.
“I wouldn’t have expected him to be involved in something like this,” Harris testified.
Tests and interviews showed the youth is likely to respond well to rehabilitation efforts, Harris said. “His greatest fear is alligators — and he does not like to make his mother sad.”
Harris was a prosecution witness, but his overall testimony boded well for the defense.
Opening Tuesday’s session, Columbia police detective Robert McCracken led the judge through surveillance tapes that caught the pack of eight young men roaming Five Points. The tapes, which were crucial to making the eight arrests, did not record the actual beating but caught the young men before and after the incident.
The tapes and statements by some of those arrested showed four youths — including the youth at Tuesday’s hearing — crossed the street and were present when Strange was beaten.
Four other youths, all juveniles, were in a car across the street and did not participate in the actual beating. Last year, those four pleaded guilty in Family Court to conspiracy and are on probation.
None of the other four youths has yet been tried.
The youth at Tuesday’s hearing admitted in a statement to police in June that he “nudged” the fallen Strange with his foot after others beat him. When Strange did not move, the youth said he became frightened and left with the others.