A man convicted of murder may get a chance at a new trial
Inside the charred building of North Charleston’s Mill Inn, Teresa Haught’s body was found face down surrounded by shattered glass near the bar.
The 36-year-old, who managed the Montague Avenue bar, was beaten to death with a wine carafe. An autopsy revealed that her killer struck her face, fractuing her skull in several places.
Someone set the bar on fire, and investigators found a blood-stained dollar bill and hair in Haught’s hand. The year was 1997.
Wesley Max Myers, 53, has spent the past 11 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of the killing and a judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison in 2001.
He had confessed to police that he murdered his ex-girlfriend in a jealous rage, but later maintained his innocence.
Circuit Judge Markley Dennis ruled Tuesday that Myers is entitled to a new trial, based on new evidence as well as rights violations during original trial.
Recent DNA testing, using technology that didn’t exist at the time of the trial, showed that the hair found in Haught’s hand was not Myers’, and neither was the blood on the dollar bill, according to the ruling’s documents.
The judge also ruled that Myers was denied his constitutional right to be present during all critical stages of his trial, the ruling said.
Myers was not present for several meetings between the judge and jurors, according to the ruling. His absence included an instance during jury deliberations, when the foreman met with the judge after sending a note that indicated the jury could not reach a verdict.
“I was stupefied to learn the judge had spoken to the jury outside our presence,” said Tim Culp, the defense attorney representing Myers at the time.
The trial lasted seven days and featured experts on false confessions, surprise witnesses and missing evidence.
Prosecutors had presented the confession Myers submitted three days after his ex-girlfriend’s murder. In his statement to police, Myers said he went to the bar the night of the murder to check on Haught, court records show.
Myers became upset when he saw a note to Haught from another man at the bar, his statement to police said. They began to argue and Haught grabbed a wine carafe, according to his statement.
“I grabbed the wine craft (sic) from her. Then she pushed me in the face. I struck her in the center of the head with the wine craft (sic). Both of us went down to the floor. Like a blur, I lost control,” his statement said. “I think I struck her twice. I was raged upset, real mad.”
Myers confessed to police after a grueling interrogation that lasted about 15 to 20 hours over the three-day period, Culp said.
Myers’ mother, Rose Maree, who testified during the original trial that her son was home the night of the murder, said she continues to stand by her son, and that it’s been an emotionally exhausting and painful journey.
“We’re looking forward to finally getting our son back home with his son, who is now grown up without him,” she said.
But it’s not a done deal. Myers received a fair trial, according to Bruce Durant, the 9th Circuit assistant solicitor who tried the case.
“It’s very disappointing to have to keep fighting this,” he said. “The chances of us being able to re-create this trial is slim to none. It would be very difficult to try a case this old. Witnesses die, witnesses leave.”
The 9th Circuit Solicitor’s Office has asked the S.C. Attorney General’s Office to appeal the judge’s ruling. A representative from that office was not sure if a decision had been made to move forward with that appeal.
Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.