Court motion seeks to prevent witness tampering in Marley Lion case
In the weeks after 17-year-old Marley Lion was shot, detectives scoured West Ashley’s streets in search of people who knew something about his killing.
Some witnesses came forward; others talked only after investigators’ urging.
They included two men who strolled into the Ardmore neighborhood to buy crack cocaine June 16 when they heard gunfire. The Charleston Police Department also questioned the four eventually charged in Lion’s death, including one who told detectives that his friend “shot that white boy for nothing,” police said.
Their recorded interviews and other information gathered so far have filled 45 DVDs and 1,000 pages that prosecutors will use if they take the case to trial.
But it’s evidence that Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson indicated in a court filing could be misused if it gets into the wrong hands.
Prosecutors will argue today that the four defendants shouldn’t be allowed to view certain evidence because they could use it to discourage witnesses from testifying.
It’s a concern rooted in history: One of the Lion defendants was a murder suspect before, until the key witness against him was slain. While the motion specifies no allegations, it’s meant as a preventive measure.
But to public defender Ashley Pennington, who represents the man accused of being the shooter, the move threatens to “seriously limit” his preparation for trial, he said.
“It’s a 10-year felony to intimidate a witness,” Pennington said, “and my client has no intention to violate that law.”
Wilson has highlighted the need for witnesses’ continued cooperation since early August, when police announced the arrests, and intimidation might have already played a role in the pasts of two of the defendants.
Julius Brown, 32, was charged with murder in a West Ashley home invasion in 2000.
Five years later, an accomplice who planned to testify against him was fatally shot. The death ended the state’s case, and Brown walked free.
And George Brown, 28, who is not related to Julius Brown, was the target of such intimidation, his family said.
Brown submitted a written statement about seeing a 2008 Halloween shooting death in West Ashley. Two years later, he was shot six times. After that scare, he denied ever making the statement.
He now faces a count of accessory after murder in Lion’s death. He is the only one of the four suspects not accused of direct involvement with the shooting outside Famous Joe’s Bar and Grill.
Police said Julius Brown, 28-year-old Bryan Rivers and 31-year-old Ryan Deleston planned to burglarize the bar until Lion’s vehicle pulled in. They instead resolved to rob Lion, who had stopped to sleep off a night of partying, police said.
Deleston is accused of shooting the recent high school graduate five times after a car alarm sounded.
Evidence that investigators have amounted against Deleston includes statements by his accused accomplices. In the minutes after the shooting, Julius Brown told police that he saw Deleston set a gun on a table and wash his hands with bleach.
But the interviews are just a portion of the countless hours of police questioning.
Wilson’s motion seeks to limit the distribution of certain portions of that evidence to the defendants’ attorneys and their staff members. She argues that a judge has discretion to make that call when it’s in the best interest of a “fair trial.”
The solicitor made no allegations, but she wrote that “those who are so inclined have an incentive” to pressure witnesses. Criminal defendants nationwide have become adept at using cameras and the Internet to make such threats on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, she wrote.
Each of the defendants has asked prosecutors to relinquish information they’ve accrued so far — a standard procedure in criminal cases. Deleston used a pencil to write his request on yellow paper from behind bars.
Deleston’s attorney, Pennington, said the solicitor’s motion to filter that information would hinder his client’s chance to study the evidence. Instead of turning over documents, Pennington would be required to read redacted versions to his client.
Barring a compromise with Wilson, he plans to fight the motion.
“It poses all kinds of concerns,” Pennington said. “This will make it harder for my client to digest a lot of the materials. He needs to get a chance to understand what the case is about.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.