Crime & Courts

Pardon denied for SC man who said slaying of two children in 1980 was an ‘accident’

A history of pardons in South Carolina

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South Carolina grants 64 percent of pardon requests. See what crimes are most and least likely to be pardoned as well as the state's most famous cases.

A bid for a pardon by a S.C. man who served 20 years in prison for killing two children when he was 13 was rejected Wednesday by a state board.

“The vote is unanimous,” Henry Eldridge, chair of the board of the S.C. Probation, Parole and Pardon Services, announced at a Columbia meeting.

Minutes earlier, Brian Sanders, now 51, had urged the board to grant him a pardon for the killings of Juanita Summers, 8, and Kevin Gadson, 9, whom he shot and killed with his shotgun while walking in the woods in Orangeburg County, near Interstate 95, on Jan. 21, 1980. Both died of multiple buckshot wounds.

Sanders, who served 20 years of a 60-year sentence on two counts of voluntary manslaughter, was released on parole in 2000.

“Why do you feel like you deserve a pardon?” Eldridge asked Sanders, who now has the last name of Smith, lives in the Charleston area, and works in carpentry and construction.

“First of all, I’d like to say I’m really sorry for what happened. It was a horrible, horrible accident,” said Sanders, adding he has led a good life since being paroled from prison.

Sanders said he almost has a college degree, works to bring educational opportunities to prisoners, and wants to regain the right to vote and travel freely.

“How do you feel about what you did?” asked Eldridge.

“I feel horrible. The only consolation I have is that it was an accident,” Sanders replied. “But I take responsibility.”

After his arrest, Sanders told police that he didn’t intentionally shoot the two African-American children but thought they were wild dogs — a remark that, at the time, provoked outrage in the local black community. Sanders is white.

But race wasn’t mentioned Wednesday — by either Sanders or the nine relatives of children shot that day who attended the hearing, telling the board that the killings caused pain still felt today.

Sanders never faced “the full consequences” of his actions because he was not charged with shooting and wounding two other children also playing in the woods that day, said Juanita Riggins, 51, a sister of one of the children shot.

At least two shotgun blasts were fired, Riggins said, adding Sanders left the scene and did not get help for the injured.

Margie Shingler, 77, told the board that her son, Ronald Shingler, was wounded that day, his hand maimed, and still suffers emotionally.

The relatives brought with them petitions signed by several hundred Orangeburg-area residents, urging the state board to deny Sanders’ request for a pardon.

Columbia attorney Joe McCulloch, who was instrumental in getting Sanders paroled in 2000, spoke briefly, calling his client “a remarkable man” who was wronged, during his trial, by errors by both the prosecution and his defense attorney. An autopsy in the case backed up Sanders’ contention that he thought the children were dogs, McCulloch said.

Afterward, Sanders said he thought the board’s decision to deny his pardon request was “a little unfair.”

But, he acknowledged, the board had “a tough call to make,” especially “when you had a room full of victims.”

Asked, after the hearing, when Sanders should get a pardon, Ronald Shingler, now 53, held out a hand mangled by buckshot. “Never.”