Found documents may avert third trial for convicted killer
A convicted killer’s bid for a third trial in the 2002 shooting of his boyhood friend has hit a bump with the discovery of important legal records that had gone missing.
When James Summersett filed for post-conviction relief after his second trial in 2010, court officials discovered the recording and transcript of the proceeding had disappeared. That left a judge with no way to evaluate Summersett’s claims that he had received inadequate legal representation.
Summersett’s new attorney, Tara Shurling of Columbia, filed a motion to have his conviction tossed out, paving the way for a third trial in the April 2002 killing of 27-year-old Julian Grant in West Ashley. A hearing is scheduled for Friday to consider that motion.
But Kimberly Grant, the victim’s widow, said she received a call Monday from the state Attorney General’s Office informing her that the transcript had finally been found. Grant said officials located the trial’s court reporter, who had since retired. Grant said she was told the woman was able to retrieve the transcript from a backup computer, likely averting the need for a new trial.
“I am just thankful, very thankful,” she said. “Prayer has the power to change things, I can say that.”
Mark Powell, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, declined comment on the case in advance of Friday’s hearing.
Shurling said the Attorney General’s Office notified her Friday that a software upgrade enabled the court reporter to access what is said to be a complete record of the 2010 trial stored on her computer. The state indicated a full transcript can be produced, she said.
The find may well negate the need for Friday’s hearing, Shurling said.
“I’m delighted and look forward to getting the record,” she said. “I’m just sorry it has taken so long for us to get it.”
Summersett, 41, has not disputed that he shot Julian Grant during a brawl on Hazelwood Drive, the street where they grew up. Grant was shot as he tried to stop Summersett from pistol-whipping another man with a cocked gun. At both trials, Summersett maintained the pistol accidentally fired when he and Julian fell over.
In 2003 a jury found Summersett guilty of murder, but the state Supreme Court later tossed out that conviction, citing errors by the trial judge. At his second trial, in 2010, a judge found Summersett guilty of voluntary manslaughter.
That charge carries a maximum 30-year sentence, but Summersett ended up in prison for life under the state’s “two strikes” law because he had a previous conviction for assault and battery with intent to kill. He is in Lee state prison in Bishopville and is not eligible for parole.