Should Chuck Sullivan, a Columbia man convicted years ago in a high profile case of serial child molestation, be set free after serving some 17 years in prison?
That is the question before a Richland County jury that was seated late Monday afternoon after Circuit Judge Tanya Gee excused numerous jurors for various reasons, including that the subject matter of sexual predators was too traumatic for some to handle.
Much of the testimony will center on whether Sullivan is likely to try to molest young males again. The jury is expected to hear conflicting testimony from mental health specialists.
Opening arguments in Sullivan’s case begin at 9 am Tuesday at the Richland County courthouse in downtown Columbia. The trial, in which some nine witnesses may testify, is expected to last until Thursday or Friday.
The case is a rare public civil commitment hearing, in which the Attorney General’s office is seeking to put a convicted sex predator who has served his prison sentence back into long-term incarceration in a secure facility operated by the S.C. Department of Mental Health.
For years in the 1980s and 1990s, Sullivan – a well-known and popular youth baseball and basketball coach – sexually preyed on Columbia area young boys, using sophisticated psychological techniques to “groom” them and manipulate them into sex acts, according to evidence in his case.
In 1998, after victims came forward, Sullivan, now 60, pleaded guilty in state court in Richland County to 32 charges of fondling boys 16 and under and disseminating harmful material to minors. He used the victims’ sense of shame and lack of witnesses to keep the boys’ silence for years, investigators said at the time.
Although Sullivan was given a 35-year prison sentence, he met early release requirements in 2015 and was released from prison. He was immediately transferred to Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, where he is currently detained.
Over the years, Sullivan had sought parole but always was turned down. Victims and law enforcement testified at his parole hearings, arguing against release.
Under the state’s Sexually Violent Predator Act, the Attorney General’s office has initiated this week’s trial of Sullivan and will hope to convince the jury that Sullivan has “a mental abnormality or personality disorder” that make him likely to repeat his crimes.
If the jury votes unanimously that Sullivan is likely to repeat his crimes, Sullivan will be confined to an indeterminate time in a long-term sexually violent offender facility. A hung jury will not result in Sullivan’s automatic release. The Attorney General’s office may seek a retrial.