Crime & Courts

SC lawmaker’s domestic-violence case ‘not a one-time incident,’ prosecutor says

New details of S.C. lawmaker beating his wife revealed by prosecutor in court

A state prosecutor told a judge during a bond hearing for State Rep. Chris Corley that Corley punched his wife in the side of the head, bit her nose and scratched her face. The victim was able to call 911 using her Apple Watch.
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A state prosecutor told a judge during a bond hearing for State Rep. Chris Corley that Corley punched his wife in the side of the head, bit her nose and scratched her face. The victim was able to call 911 using her Apple Watch.

An “escalating pattern” of domestic violence over several months led to an Aiken County lawmaker’s arrest on domestic violence and firearm charges last month, a prosecutor said during a Wednesday bond hearing on an enhanced charge.

Rep. Chris Corley is accused of beating his wife, pointing a gun at her and threatening her in their Graniteville home last month.

A prosecutor for the S.C. attorney general’s office said the lawmaker has moved out of the home and has not seen his children or wife since the incident. His wife also has taken out a temporary restraining order against Corley.

“This wasn’t a one-time incident,” Assistant Attorney General Kinli Abee told the judge, who set Corley’s bond at $50,000. “The abuse between the defendant and the victim in this case, in fact, seems to be an escalating pattern of behavior over the last several months.”

Abee didn’t discuss details about the past behavior, and the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office has said there was no history of calls to the home.

New details emerged during the hearing about the assault. After Corley’s wife confronted him about a text message that led her to believe he was having an affair, Abee said, Corley threw his wife down on the bed and began punching her in the side of the head.

When Corley saw their two children in the doorway of the bedroom, he got up, shut the door and “continued to beat the victim about the face,” Abee said.

“She said specifically, at one point in time, she remembers him grabbing the skin on her face and trying to pull it down, as well as biting her nose,” Abee said.

The victim was able to get out of the bedroom and run to the kitchen, where the two children were, Abee said. Corley had taken her cellphone so she couldn’t call police; however, the victim was wearing an Apple Watch, which is connected to the phone. “The Apple Watch was close enough to the cellphone where she was able to actually ask the watch to call 911,” Abee said.

Corley was charged with first-degree domestic violence and pointing and presenting a firearm. But an Aiken County grand jury indicted the lawmaker earlier this month on the more serious charge of criminal domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature, prompting Wednesday’s bond hearing. The indictments triggered Corley’s suspension from the S.C. House by House Speaker Jay Lucas.

Columbia attorney John Delgado, who is representing Corley, said during the hearing that Corley has “given up” his House seat as a result of his suspension; however, Delgado told reporters later that his client has not resigned. Delgado would not comment on whether Corley plans to resign.

An attorney for State Rep. Chris Corley, who has been suspended from the S.C. House of Representatives following his indictment on domestic violence and gun charges, says the lawmaker has not resigned his House seat.

A judge set Corley’s bond at $50,000, ordering him to have no contact with his wife and children, not possess any firearms and not to travel outside the state except for work. Because prosecutors had concerns about Corley being a flight risk, the judge also ordered him to surrender his passport. Abee also said Corley misled police about his whereabouts that day.

“The defendant did provide information to police about his whereabouts on the day (of the assault),” Abee said. “The police were able to speak with those individuals that the defendant said he was with and found that he wasn't with them. He has falsely led police as to where his location is.”

Delgado said during the hearing that it was not correct to insinuate that Corley’s wife is afraid of him, saying that she was recently in contact with his mother about buying a new cover for his cellphone. He said the attorney general’s office may have “exacerbated” the situation with the enhanced domestic violence charge.

“It may be, perhaps, somebody has said to her that you have to continue with this new charge or we may have to decide whether or not you filed a false police report,” he said, “and if so, whether or not that may open up you, Mrs. Corley, to criminal charges.”

In audio from the 911 call placed from the home, children can be heard screaming and “begging for their father to stop.”

“Please stop” is screamed repeatedly. “Just stop, Daddy. Just stop. Why are you doing this, Daddy?”

Also heard is, “Please, Chris,” presumably from Corley’s wife of 12 years.

Aiken County deputies would later get a follow-up phone call from a different woman.

That caller, Corley’s mother-in-law, is heard telling deputies that a man with a gun “beat his wife and he’s threatening to kill his self (sic).” Corley’s wife and two of their children had fled across the street to her mother’s home.

Corley’s wife, who The State newspaper is not identifying by name, told deputies that the only thing that stopped Corley from firing were the screams of two of their children, one of whom is 8 and the other, just under 2, according to the deputies’ incident report.

The lawmaker then went into a bedroom, saying he “was going to kill himself,” his wife, 37, told deputies. As Corley went toward the bedroom, his wife and the children ran to her mother’s house across the street, deputies said. The report does not mention a third child, who is listed in the current S.C. Legislative Manual.

Second Circuit Solicitor J. Strom Thurmond Jr. turned the case over to the Attorney General’s office, citing several potential conflicts with his office prosecuting the case.