Tyrone Winslow Jr. spent two years in jail waiting for a trial that, by all accounts, never should have happened.
The 21-year-old McClellanville man never denied stabbing a man to death in 2010, but he had claimed self-defense.
He was acquitted last week on a murder charge, and the courtroom consensus was that he should have been exonerated all along.
While prosecutors and defense attorneys disagree on the evidence and the reason for Winslow’s extended incarceration, there was one inescapable fact that both sides agreed on — Winslow did not commit murder.
Winslow had faced a trial after killing 27-year-old Matthew Jerome Williams outside Club 17 North off U.S. Highway 17 near McClellanville.
Winslow’s jail stay ended Thursday when Circuit Judge Stephanie McDonald issued a directed verdict in his favor in a courtroom in Charleston.
Typically, the defense asks the judge to make a directed verdict when it believes the state has not met its burden of proof in a case. In this case, prosecutors had to prove that Winslow acted maliciously, and not in self-defense. McDonald sided with public defender Beattie Butler and acquitted Winslow.
“It’s a shame he lost two valuable years of his life sitting in a detention center,” Butler told The Post and Courier. “This case should have never been prosecuted.”
Winslow could not be reached for comment.
The trial had been going on all week. On Thursday, Winslow took the stand and described what he says happened during the early morning hours of Nov. 13, 2010.
Winslow told the jury that after a fight started inside the club, he and his friends were ushered outside. There, he said, he was attacked by several people, was kicked and beaten, and had no idea why.
A man bear-hugged him, Winslow said, and he used a pocket knife, which he always carried, to stab him in order to break free.
“I just wanted to get him off of me,” Winslow repeated throughout his testimony.
Detectives later told him that that man, Williams, died from those wounds, having been stabbed six times, according to prosecutors. Winslow said he didn’t even know Williams.
Defense witnesses backed Winslow’s version of events.
Many members of the jury were pleased when the judge acquitted Winslow, according to two jurors. Juror Andrea McMorran, 29, said she believed Winslow was not guilty, and was relieved when he was set free.
“It’s a relief, but heartbreaking at the same time that those two years are gone,” she said.
Butler said some of the jury members expressed the same sentiments to him following the acquittal. “I’ve never had a juror hug me before,” he said.
One juror, who did not want to be identified, also raised concerns about the prosecution’s case. “I thought the Solicitor’s Office was completely unprepared for the case,” he said.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, who didn’t try the case, agreed with the judge’s acquittal but pointed at the defense for wasting everyone’s time. One of her assistant solicitors handled the prosecution.
“Had we known the information presented in court, we would have made the same decision that the judge made, only much sooner,” Wilson said. “Unfortunately, the criminal rules do not require the defense to share their witnesses or evidence with my attorneys. Some of their witnesses refused to talk to law enforcement, and others were unknown to law enforcement.”
Butler called that reasoning disingenuous and claimed prosecutors had statements from witnesses they didn’t call to the stand that supported his claims that Winslow was attacked by a mob outside the club.
Wilson said there were discrepancies in some of the statements.
After the trial, Butler said the fight inside the club had nothing to do with Winslow. It stemmed from a robbery that occurred elsewhere, and some people went to the club trying to find those responsible for the crime, he said.
Winslow unwittingly got caught up in the fracas that resulted and was attacked, Butler said. Winslow, who had never been in trouble with the law before, was arrested days later.
The two years of Winslow’s life that were wasted highlight the need for change in criminal rules, according to Wilson.
“The defense put on a good, compelling case and the rules allowed them to ‘hide the ball,’?” she said. “While that made for a dramatic trial that surely was fun for the defense lawyer, the defendant who could have had his case dismissed sat in jail for two years and the jurors who wasted a week of their time suffered for it.”
Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.