Suspects in Goose Creek meth-making case in federal court
Shonni “Scooter” Abernathy could barely control his emotions Tuesday as he sat in a federal courtroom in Charleston.
The 40-year-old Goose Creek man is accused of making methamphetamine at an apartment building that caught fire, killing three people in May.
During an arraignment hearing, he periodically cried and at one point buried his face in his hands.
He and Gerald McCabe, 33, who are both jailed at the Kirkland Correctional Institution, appeared in court because two other suspects were added to their federal case against them for conspiring to cook meth.
Those suspects are 35-year-old Alberta Pierson, who is Abernathy’s common-law wife, and Michael Still, 19, the boyfriend of Abernathy and Pierson’s dead daughter.
Their daughter, 19-year-old Morgan Abernathy, was among the three people who died in the May 31 fire at Pine Harbour Apartments on Harbour Lake Drive.
The fire destroyed a 16-apartment building and also killed the cousin Morgan was baby-sitting, 4-year-old Sammy Garbe, and 69-year-old military veteran Joseph Raeth, who died in a neighboring unit.
Investigators found chemicals and other materials in the rubble. Affidavits say Abernathy and McCabe had been making meth the morning of the fire.
None of the suspects addressed the court during Tuesday’s arraignment.
Still and Pierson stood by their attorneys as a judge ordered that both be released on an unsecured bond of $50,000.
While the pair was allowed to leave, Abernathy and McCabe had to go back to state prison.
The two men are incarcerated because a judge revoked their probation on prior crimes after their arrests in connection with the fire, according to Pete O’Boyle, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services.
McCabe is serving nine years and 10 months for a 2010 conviction on a charge of assault of a high and aggravated nature. Abernathy is serving three and a half years for a 2009 conviction for cocaine possession, O’Boyle said.
All four suspects in the fire case were initially charged in state court, but authorities opted to pursue a federal prosecution because it would likely result in greater penalties.
The arrests of the four in June were hailed by many in the Pine Harbour complex, but some relatives have mixed emotions.
Pierson’s aunt, Nancy Edwards, lost her grandson Sammy in the fire. Edwards said she has moved to another side of town because she can’t bear to be near the fire site. She misses Sammy terribly, but knows her niece is dealing with a great loss as well.