Crime & Courts

Federal judge nixes ‘too lenient’ plea deal for SC carjacking gun-show thieves

U.S. Federal Courthouse
U.S. Federal Courthouse

A South Carolina federal judge on Tuesday refused to approve a plea deal for three Columbia area serial carjackers who stole a trove of guns and ammunition from a Shriners’-supported gun show last year.

The three carjackers, who made off with five assault-style rifles and pistols worth more than $19,000 last August, had each agreed to accept a 17-year prison sentence for pleading guilty.

But that wasn’t enough prison time, according to U.S. District Judge Terry Wooten, who deemed the deal “too lenient” for the three confessed carjackers: Jevante Richmond, 26; Arthur Evans Jr., 27; and Shelvey Grant, 28.

“I’m rejecting these plea agreements,” Wooten told Assistant U.S. Attorney J.D. Rowell and the defendants’ three defense lawyers during a court hearing at the Columbia federal courthouse that lasted nearly two hours.

Judges rarely reject plea deals, which are usually the product of months of negotiations between prosecutors and defense lawyers and take into account the defendant’s background, the circumstances of the case, and the interests of law enforcement and the victims.

After hearing Wooten’s assessment of the case, Grant’s defense attorney Jonathan Harvey, who has some 40 years experience representing accused criminals, told Wooten, “In all candor, in my many years of experience, this is the first time I’ve encountered this.”

In rejecting the deal, Wooten told the attorneys he had reviewed the case’s facts: All three carjackers had previous criminal records. All were out on parole from state prison. The men had used guns to threaten the cars’ drivers and, in one case, pistol-whipped a victim, stole his wallet and fired shots.

“These are violent offenders — indiscriminate attacks on innocent victims,” Wooten said.

Moreover, according to evidence in the case, after their first carjacking, when they stole a 2013 Hyundi Elantra, the defendants went to Jamil Temple at night during one of the Temple’s regular gun shows and stole five assault style weapons — three rifles and two pistols — and thousands of dollars worth of ammunition of various kinds, Wooten said.

During the hearing, the defense attorneys argued unsuccessfully that 17 years was a significant prison term — more than half of each defendant’s age — and urged Wooten to accept it.

Prosecutor Rowell told Wooten that nine of the 13 victims in the case were contacted before sentencing and “none expressed dissatisfaction with the plea agreement.”

It wasn’t clear what will happen next. Prosecutors have the option of adding more charges, as well as arguing for stiffer sentences on the existing charges. Defendants can choose to go to trial.

Evans’ lawyer, Jack Duncan, said after the hearing that he will consult with his client. “We will be evaluating the possibility of withdrawing our guilty plea.”

Evidence in the case linked all three men to three carjackings and an attempted carjacking, as well as the gun show theft, lawyers and the judge said.

The case was investigated by the FBI, ATF and Lexington and Richland County authorities. Carjackings are a federal crime, as are weapons thefts.

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