With the jury announcing its members were "hopelessly deadlocked," Judge Eugene "Bubba" Griffith declared a mistrial late Tuesday night in the murder trial of Kierin Dennis, charged in the 2014 fatal stabbing of a Dutch Fork High School senior in the parking lot of a Lexington eatery.
The jury of six men and six women had deliberated some 10 hours, beginning around 1 pm Tuesday, before telling Griffith further deliberations were hopeless.
“I’m sure we’ll be looking to set another trial date,” said Eleventh Circuit Solicitor Shawn Graham, who spent 2 1/2 years working on the case.
Dennis' lawyer, Todd Rutherford, said his client was disappointed with the outcome because he looked forward to being acquitted.
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While Rutherford waits to hear from the prosecution about what will happen next, the murder charge against Dennis stands. Dennis is on house arrest and electronic monitoring, and can only leave his home to go to work 5 days a week, Rutherford said.
Dennis, now 21 and 18 at the time of the crime, was accused of the murder of Da'Von Capers, 17, and using a weapon in the commission of a crime. If found guilty, Dennis would have automatically been sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in prison.
The stabbing took place during what was described in testimony as a "brawl" at the Cook Out between students from rival schools -- Dutch Fork and Lexington High - after a basketball game between the two. Dennis was a recent graduate of Lexington High.
During the seven-day trial, the jury heard from 30 witnesses and viewed numerous videos, some repeatedly, taken from police interrogations and security cameras.
The jury began deliberating at 1:04 p.m. Tuesday.
At 10 p.m., after a brief dinner break, they were still deliberating.
Shortly afterward, the judge asked the jury if further deliberations would be fruitful. The foreman indicated “no.” But the judge asked them to go back and deliberate one more time. They did, at 10:24 p.m.
The mistrial was declared at 11:30 p.m.
During deliberations, jurors asked to hear Judge Eugene Griffith read the legal definitions of self-defense and malice. They came back into the courtroom and listened as the judge read lengthy definitions.
Rutherford said after the mistrial was declared he talked to 4 of the jurors who told him the jurors could not agree on the issues of malice and “stand your ground.”
Dennis stabbed Capers to death on Feb. 17, 2014, in the parking lot of the Lexington Cook Out eatery.
The case revolves around the conduct of two groups of Lexington County high school students – one from Dutch Fork High, the other from Lexington High – who had an altercation at the Cook Out.
Most of the case focused on what was described as a 32-second brawl in the Cook Out parking lot, as well as the events leading up to that incident, and Dennis’ conduct afterward. Dennis and Capers did not know each other.
The case went to the jury early Tuesday afternoon after defense and prosecution attorneys made impassioned arguments, presenting sharply different views of events.
Rutherford told the jury that Dennis had repeatedly tried to get away from aggressive Dutch Fork students, first at Lexington High after the game, and then several times at the Cook Out. Each time at the Cook Out, Dennis and his group of four friends backed out of potential confrontations with more than two dozen Dutch Fork students.
In the final confrontation, Rutherford said, a pack of Dutch Fork students were clustered around the driver’s window of Dennis’ stopped SUV, screaming curses and challenges to fight. At that moment, Capers leaned in Dennis’ window, and Dennis feared for his life.
“Under South Carolina law, a person has the right to self-defense,” Rutherford said.
“Once he tries to get in Kierin’s car, Kierin is allowed by law to presume that (Capers) is trying to take his life,” Rutherford said, deeming the pack of Dutch Fork students a “hornet’s nest.” Rutherford repeatedly told the jury that Capers got too close.
Graham, speaking after Rutherford, told the jury that Capers stood outside the car and that he wasn’t physically threatening Dennis when he was stabbed.
Moreover, Graham said, self-defense doesn’t apply to a situation if a person can leave, and Dennis had numerous chances to leave the Cook Out, even during the last fatal confrontation.
“Every choice he made was made in anger, in hatred and malice,” Graham told the jury.
Terming Dennis “a hunter looking for a fight,” Graham said that Dennis was made because he saw Dutch Fork students at the Cook Out, turf usually dominated by crowds of Lexington High students.
“This was his high school, his Cook Out,” Graham said. “Nobody was going to push him around. That was the attitude he had.”
Graham also pointed out that Dennis had lied to police when first asked about the incident and then went home after the stabbing and buried the knife in a neighbor’s yard.
“Why does a man who stabbed somebody in self-defense bury a knife?” Graham asked.
And before digging a hole for the knife, Graham reminded the jury of an admission Dennis had made during his testimony Monday: Dennis changed his shoes, putting on an old pair so he wouldn’t dirty a new pair.
“What a wicked evil, heart to plunge this,” Graham said, holding up the 5-inch instrument of death, “into a man’s chest, wipe the blood with a tissue, and worry about changing shoes!”