A Beaufort County judge will decide whether the teen charged in the shooting death of Dominique Williams in a Hilton Head Island park in 2015 will be tried as an adult.
Prosecutors asked that the case be moved to General Sessions Court from Family Court during a hearing Friday afternoon. New details about the deadly encounter emerged during the hearing as prosecutors played video they say shows the suspect shoot Williams once and then run away.
Family Court Judge Peter Fuge said he needed time to process the testimony and arguments before he makes his decision.
Williams, 17, was shot and killed July 19, 2015, in Coligny Beach Park. The suspect, then 15, was turned in by his family two days later and charged as a juvenile with murder and possession of a weapon during a violent crime. He has been held at the Department of Juvenile Justice’s Juvenile Detention Center in Columbia.
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Prosecutors called the suspect, now 17, by his name throughout the hearing. The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet have not named the suspect because he is currently charged as a juvenile.
Assistant Solicitor Jean McCormick argued Friday the suspect should be tried in General Sessions, noting the maximum age he could be held if convicted as a juvenile is 21. If tried and convicted as an adult, the minimum sentence is 30 years and the maximum is life in prison, Solicitor Duffie Stone noted.
“This is a violent crime,” McCormick said. “It’s a felony.”
The suspect’s attorney, Jared Newman, said his client is a child and that prosecutors are unnecessarily trying to pile on punishment.
Williams’ family, including his parents, sat behind prosecutors Friday. Members of the suspect’s family and his parents sat on the other side of the aisle.
In considering whether to try the suspect as an adult, Fuge heard from a Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office investigator, a Department of Juvenile Justice case worker and a psychologist with the agency who evaluated the suspect on multiple occasions.
The prosecution painted a case of a drug deal gone bad two days before the shooting. Williams and friends drove to meet the suspect, who allegedly posted on Snapchat about having marijuana for sale, Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office investigator Seth Reynells said. The encounter reportedly ended with Williams driving off with the drugs without paying, the investigator added.
The teens fought the next day; the episode was recorded on a phone and shown in court Friday.
On the day Williams was killed, he had been playing mini-golf and getting lunch with friends, Reynells said. That evening, the suspect began what Reynells deemed a “systematic” search for Williams through mutual friends.
Reynells described what happened next based on accounts by witnesses. Video of the encounter was projected on a courtroom wall.
The suspect sat with his hand over his mouth as the video played.
Reynells described Williams walking along the Coligny Beach boardwalk with two friends and the suspect appearing to walk in another direction.
A call or whistle reportedly led the suspect to turn around and begin moving toward Williams, Reynells testified. He appears to walk up to Williams, pull something from a purple bag, shoot Williams once in the face and run off.
The suspect had a reputation for empty threats, Reynells said. Newman asked Reynells whether others had taunted his client because of it.
“They are 15-year-old boys. They got on each other all the time,” Reynells replied.
“Fifteen-year-old boys, thank you,” Newman said.
A Department of Juvenile Justice intake counselor said the suspect had received 52 behavioral write-ups between grades 8 and 10 while in Beaufort County schools. McCormick testified that the suspect had been written up while in juvenile detention for aggressive behavior, including fighting and threatening staff.
Candice Dunn, a Department of Juvenile Justice psychologist, said the suspect showed traits of being emotional, easily frustrated and prone to misinterpreting the intentions of others and believing the world is a hostile place.
McCormick more than once noted that the suspect, at the time of the shooting, had been only a little more than a month away from his 16th birthday, when he would likely have been tried as an adult.
Newman pointed out that Dunn had listed several positives in her evaluation, including the suspect’s family support and ability to empathize with others. Dunn acknowledged that the suspect had been cooperative in her evaluations. Newman noted that his client had earned his GED while in custody.
If the case goes to General Sessions, prosecutors expect to present the case before a grand jury within a few months, Stone said.
But for now, both sides await Fuge’s decision.
“This is a terrible, terrible situation,” the judge said before dismissing the hearing.