After more than two days of vetting, 12 jurors and two alternates were selected for the trial of the six men charged in connection with the 2018 shooting at Greenwood Mall, and they heard from the state’s first witness.
The vetting process started Monday morning, when Judge Brooks Goldsmith began the process of excusing members of the more than 90-person jury pool who had conflicts in the trial. On Wednesday, attorneys for the defendants and the state were able to select the jurors they wanted for the case, and soon after launched into their opening arguments.
Eighth Circuit Assistant Solicitor Josh Thomas started off by evoking the sudden sense of danger felt at the mall when four shots were fired there on July 28, 2018. He said the six co-defendants saw someone at the mall, chased him and fired shots in his direction.
Once the jury has heard all the testimony and seen all the evidence, he said they would have grounds to convict the six men.
Stephen Geoly, representing Isaiah Whatley, spoke first among the defense attorneys. He said Whatley has been looking forward to this day, when he would get the relief of finally having a jury hear his case. He was arrested the night after his second day as a high school senior, and now the 19-year-old Whatley was ready to defend himself against the allegations.
Geoly said Whatley wasn’t part of some plan to try to take anyone’s life, and said through the trial he would show that Whatley was at a different part of the mall when the others were gathered near where the shooting took place.
Defending Shyheim Reed, attorney Carson Henderson reminded the jury his client was innocent until proven guilty, and stressed the burden the state has to prove his client’s guilt.
“In order to convict Mr. Reed, the state needs to prove its case beyond any and all reasonable doubt,” Henderson said.
The state’s case, attorney Michael Gambrell said, is built primarily from surveillance video at the mall, and he said things seen aren’t always what they seem. His client, Narkevious Reid, had wanted to go to the mall earlier that day, but was taking care of his child. He got eventually got a ride to the mall from Whatley, which Gambrell said is how Reid got involved in this case at all.
The person the state said the six co-defendants were chasing and shooting at is Isaiah Brown, and state Sen. Karl Allen told the jury his client, Shyheim Alston, didn’t even know Brown. Allen asked the jury to remember the burden of proof lies on the state, and that Alston is assumed innocent until proven otherwise.
“When Shyheim gets up in the morning, he puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like the solicitor also puts his pants on one leg at a time,” Allen said. “Did he ever touch a gun?”
Antonio Williams Jr. was at the mall to buy an outfit for a party in Greenville, said attorney Elizabeth Able. He wanted to look good for the party, which is what led him to the mall. She said the state’s evidence doesn’t show who had the gun, nor who fired it, and she asked the jury to weigh the evidence carefully.
“This is a case that has been in our news and affected our community, and there’s been a lot of misinformation out there,” said Charles Grose, representing Shyheim Freeman. “You will be the first 14 people to hear the full story.”
He told the jury the state doesn’t have the evidence to convict his client. He asked jurors not to focus on figuring out what happened at the mall that day, but instead to simply judge whether the state’s evidence convinces them beyond a reasonable doubt of his client’s guilt.
“As tempting as it might be to sit here the next few days and try to determine what happened, that is not why you are here,” he said.
Before adjourning for the day, Goldsmith allowed the state to put forth its first witness — Greenwood County 911 Operations Manager Jill Boland. She testified that the 911 call center received about 80 calls the day of the shooting, and with only four dispatchers on the shift, some of the calls had to be answered by backup dispatchers in Saluda County.
On cross examination, the defense attorneys asked if she had any evidence to tie their clients to the shooting, which she said she did not.
Call from jail
During court Wednesday, attorneys agreed to play two recorded phone calls from the jail, which Thomas said were recordings from Reid’s phone account at the jail.
The first call was made Monday night, and the second on Tuesday night. Reid is heard talking with another man about various topics, eventually asking him to check Reid’s Facebook page and send a private message to a woman who was part of the jury pool. Attorneys said there was also an implication that Reid may have had contact with this woman in front of other potential jurors while in the courtroom.
Grose said if Reid did talk with her in front of other members of the jury pool, that could contaminate the jurors — but at the minimum he called Reid’s attempt to contact the woman inappropriate.
“I think we’ve heard enough this morning to have a serious concern,” said 8th Circuit Solicitor David Stumbo.
Stumbo moved to have the juror Reid was accused of trying to contact struck from the jury pool, and after the judge and attorneys spoke with her, the judge agreed to remove her from the pool.
Gambrell, Reid’s attorney, said in his defense that if anyone from the jury pool had spoken to Reid in court, someone in the crowded courtroom would have noticed it and said something. He didn’t comment on the recordings from the jail phone calls, as the solicitor’s office is investigating the situation as possible obstruction of justice and jury tampering.
“We’ve already sent letters of preservation to Facebook, but it takes time to get warrants,” Stumbo said.
After a lunch break, the judge heard several motions from the defense attorneys, some to break up the joint trial, others to call for a mistrial or to place a gag order on media coverage until the trial was complete. Goldsmith struck down each of these motions, deciding to move forward with the case.