In one of the most disputed Midlands murder cases in recent years, state Judge Robert Hood will hold a hearing on Monday to see if Lexington High School graduate Kierin Dennis should be tried again for murder in the 2014 stabbing death of Dutch Fork High student Da’Von Capers.
The core issue of the hearing is whether Dennis can invoke South Carolina’s “stand your ground” law and claim he had a right to use a knife to protect himself.
He stabbed a Dutch Fork High student who stood next to his car while he sat behind the wheel during a teen brawl at Lexington’s Cook Out eatery after a high school basketball game. Under state law, the inside of a vehicle is given special protection as a place where an occupant can sometimes use deadly force.
If Judge Hood rules in Dennis’s favor, Dennis will be immune from any prosecution in Capers’ death.
If Hood rules against Dennis, Dennis will stand trial for murder at a date to be set.
Capers was a 17-year-old senior when he died minutes after being stabbed in February 2014 in the Cook Out parking lot. Dennis was 18.
“We have to see what the judge does in this hearing, and then we figure out where we go from there,” 11th Circuit Solicitor Rick Hubbard, whose staff is prosecuting the case, said Friday.
“Obviously, we want to try him again, and we just have to have this hearing, and see how the judge rules, and what he rules on,” Hubbard said.
Dennis’s attorney, Todd Rutherford of Columbia, told The State he has new evidence that he hopes will convince Hood to find that Dennis is immune from prosecution. Rutherford is a state representative who helped write the “stand your ground” law.
Rutherford has been down this road before.
“In the midst of Kierin’s (first) trial, it became clear that there was more to the story,” said Rutherford, who defended Dennis in October 2016, when Dennis was tried for murder in Lexington County before Judge Eugene Griffith.
In that trial, after seven days of testimony from 30 witnesses, a jury deliberated 10 hours before announcing it was hopelessly deadlocked.
Although videos from cell phones, police dashcams and security cameras were played to the jury, no video showed exactly what happened during the final 32 seconds of what became a deadly confrontation. There was conflicting evidence about whether Dennis or Capers was the aggressor. Capers was on foot. Dennis was behind the wheel of an SUV and took the witness stand to tell the jury that Capers leaned in through the window.
The incident took place in February 2014 after a spirited basketball game between rivals Dutch Fork High and Lexington High. Dennis had recently graduated from Lexington High. Although there were plenty of police at the game, no officers were at the Cook Out after the game. Students from both schools gathered there.
Dennis has already lost one “stand your ground” hearing. In February 2015, more than a year before Dennis’ first trial, state Judge Thomas Russo ruled Dennis was not entitled to “stand your ground” immunity.
Shawn Graham and Rhonda Patterson, 11th Circuit prosecutors, will be arguing the case against Rutherford on Monday.
“We’ll make our position very clear,” Hubbard said.