Former Eutawville police chief Richard Combs will be tried again, most likely on the same murder and manslaughter charges an Orangeburg County jury deadlocked on early Tuesday morning.
“The case is still pending, so I’m going to move forward,” 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe said Tuesday afternoon. “I’m going to wait a couple of weeks, get some input from jurors, get some input from the family and from law enforcement, and then I will make a decision on how and when I’m going to proceed.”
Nine of the 12 jurors were in favor of convicting Combs of either manslaughter or murder, Pascoe said he was told by two jurors, so “there’s no reason for me not to proceed.”
The trial of Combs, who was charged with murder in the May 2, 2011, shooting death of Bernard Bailey, took five days. The deadlocked jury heard from nine prosecution witnesses and seven from the defense. Combs testified in his own defense.
When the new trial takes place, Pascoe will likely face the same experienced defense attorneys who represented Combs – John O’Leary of Columbia and Wally Fayssoux and Paul Landis, both from Greenville. The defense team was funded at least in part by the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, a national group that provides assistance to police officers facing criminal charges in connection with their jobs.
“(Pascoe) hasn’t told me he is going forward with a trial,” Fayssoux said Tuesday afternoon. “I would hope that everybody associated with this case will take a breath, step back and evaluate what’s happened.”
Fayssoux said he too had spoken with a jury but got a different count than Pascoe. “One juror said the vote went back and forth between six-six and seven-five,” Fayssoux said.
“I think when everybody reviews what happened, it’s obvious there are no winners in this,” Fayssoux sad. “You have the Bailey family that lost a father, and Mr. Combs has lost his life as he knows it, and he will never get normalcy again. Nobody wins.”
Combs, 38, was fired from his job as Eutawville police chief shortly after he shot and killed Bailey in the town hall parking lot.
Bailey, 54, an assistant manager at a local Walmart, had come to town to try to get a traffic court date changed for his daughter, when Combs surprised him with an arrest warrant for obstruction of justice on what Pascoe told jurors was “a trumped-up warrant.”
When an upset Bailey walked out of Combs’ office, the chief followed, telling Bailey he was under arrest and ordering him to stop. Instead, Bailey jumped in his pickup truck. The driver’s door was open, and Combs was reaching in to handcuff Bailey when the truck began backing up.
At that point, Combs – caught in the truck door and fearful of being run over – drew his gun and shot Bailey three times, killing him almost instantly. At trial, Pascoe introduced photos of the dead man to the jury showing that Bailey’s foot was on the brake when he was shot.
The jury deliberated nearly 12 hours – from about 2:30 p.m. Monday to 2:05 a.m. Tuesday. Normally, juries don’t work late into the night – they take a break and come back in the morning. Jury deliberations are secret, but jurors are allowed to talk publicly about their experiences after a case is over.
Because Combs is white and Bailey was African-American, and because of widely publicized deaths of unarmed blacks at the hands of police across the country in recent months, national news media, including The New York Times, the Reuters wire service and CBS, showed up at the trial. But no evidence surfaced that showed race played an overt part in what happened.
“Clearly, there was no racial angle in this case,” Fayssoux said.
State Rep. Joe Neal, D-Richland, an African-American who focuses on social justice and racial-profiling issues, said Tuesday: “I can’t comment on whether there was racial intent. I can comment on the fact this only seems to happen to men of color.”
Neal praised Pascoe for saying he will try Combs again. “There was no reason for this man to be killed. Whatever procedure was used, it clearly led to that.”
Neal also said it was “encouraging” that a trial was held in a case involving a black person killed by a white officer. However, he said, “with the African-American community, folk are on edge with the number and frequencies of these killings.”