Men accused of holding children at gunpoint acquitted in Berkeley County
Two men accused of pointing a gun at group of young children and forcing them into a closet during a Summerville burglary in 2011 have been found not guilty by a Berkeley County jury.
Jason Latroy James, 21, and Peter Andrew Villa, 22, both of Summerville, were acquitted Wednesday of kidnapping and burglary charges after a two-day trial in Moncks Corner, according to 9th Circuit Deputy Solicitor Bryan Alfaro.
The pair had been accused of breaking into a Summerville home on Southport Drive, pointing a gun at the six children inside and robbing them of their cellphones and other items, according to a police incident report. The children ranged in age from 6 to 13 years old, the report stated.
Villa’s attorney, Shaheena Bennett, said there were flaws in the state’s case and that the “jury found that there was reasonable doubt, which supported an acquittal.”
Alfaro said he could not comment on the case because charges are still pending against two other co-defendants.
David Lawhorn, the father of two of the children, called the acquittal an “insane” conclusion. “They’re scared now,” he said about his children following the trial.
Lawhorn’s children and his girlfriend’s four children, who were also inside the home that night, have changed their habits since the incident, he said.
“They still are adamant about locking the door. They make rounds around the house and lock the door. They never did that before,” Lawhorn said.
Two co-defendants, Sirjohn Santiago, 21, and Bryan Reynoso, 21, testified against Villa and James, pointing to them as the alleged main culprits of the incident, according to Lawhorn. With that testimony, Lawhorn said he was sure James and Villa would be put away.
“It looked very, very solid,” he said. “It’s crazy.”
But James’ public defender, Chad Shelton, argued against the codefendants credibility during the trial, he said.
On Dec, 9, 2011, the six children were upstairs when three men with covered faces broke into the house, the incident report stated. The trio went upstairs and pointed what appeared to be a semi-automatic pistol at the children and forced them into a closet, according to the report.
One of the suspects then demanded that the children give up their cellphones, the report stated. After not hearing any more noises from inside the house, one of the children darted to the second-story window and climbed out onto the first-story roof to get help from a neighbor, the report stated.
By then the suspects were gone with the cellphones and other items stolen from the house, according to the report.
Charges against Santiago and Reynoso are still pending. Santiago is charged with six counts of kidnapping and first-degree burglary. Reynoso is charged with first-degree burglary and accessory before the fact to a felony.
Villa and James remained behind bars at the Hill-Finklea Detention Center on Thursday afternoon on unrelated charges stemming from incidents that occurred while they were incarcerated. Villa faces a malicious injury to property charge; James faces an assault charge, jail records show.
Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.