After Thomas Shine spoke with Charleston police about the murder of a young woman, two drug dealers approached him with words of advice. One urged him not to testify in the case. The other offered cash in return for Shine clamming up.
Shine, 21, refused the money. Shortly thereafter, he was gunned down at a housing complex in 2011.
His story is one of a half-dozen tales of violence, threats and intimidation directed at witnesses who tried to help Charleston police solve deadly crimes in recent years. Authorities provided the list to The Post and Courier on Wednesday to illustrate the serious challenges they face with witness tampering and intimidation in just one area community.
From disparaging campaigns on Facebook to bloody ambushes on the street, the cases profiled on the list show the potential risks witnesses face for violating the tenets of street justice and its taboos against snitching.
"It's a huge problem, and it's a very real issue we deal with," 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, the chief prosecutor for Charleston and Berkeley counties, said. "Fifteen to 20 years ago, I could tell witnesses that the chances of something like that happening in this area were really small. I can't say that anymore."
Her point was driven home again Sunday when gunfire strafed a Drake Street apartment belonging to the mother of a key witness scheduled to testify in the Solomon Chisolm murder case. The brother of Chisolm's accused killer, Tyrel Collins, is accused of shooting up the home of the witness' mother.
She wasn't injured, and the witness - Chisolm's half-brother - testified. But two other witnesses pulled out of the trial and refused to testify after the incident, authorities said.
Then, on Tuesday night, gunfire critically wounded a 52-year-old man in North Charleston who was expected to testify in another murder trial scheduled to begin next month.
That case involved a March 2012 shooting on Elder Street in which one man was killed and three others wounded, police said. Among the wounded was Samuel Williams of James Bell Drive, who survived the attack and was expected to testify against the accused shooters as a victim in the case, police said.
But Williams was shot again Tuesday night near Tires for Hire, 5323 Rivers Ave., leaving him with wounds to his right leg, stomach and chest, officers said. He told officers he was shot by a man in a black hoodie on a bicycle.
Police haven't made arrests in the case, and it remains to be seen whether the shooting is linked to Williams' role in the Elder Street case.
But Wilson said she has seen enough examples of witness intimidation to know it is a real problem in the area.
"We encounter it routinely," Wilson said, "and what we also encounter is the pure fear of it even if it doesn't happen."
The intimidation might be overt, such as the bullets fired on Drake Street, or more subtle, like the phone call an accused sexual assault suspect placed to his victim's home in Berkeley County last year, advising her not to testify or cooperate with investigators "no way, no shape, no fashion," authorities said. Either way, it can quickly squelch cooperation and derail an otherwise solid case.
Payback for talking
The list detailing the experiences of Charleston police shows what is at stake. In addition to Shine's case, authorities said the following individuals were targeted for cooperating with investigators:
Terrell Taylor, 20, was gunned down in March 2004 outside his West Ashley home after agreeing to cooperate with police investigating the unsolved slaying of a young mother.
Michael Marshall, 30, fell to gunfire on Nassau Street in June 2004 after he identified suspects and agreed to testify in another East Side murder case.
John "Paps" Jenkins, a 67-year-old former Green Beret, was shot to death on Hanover Street in September 2010. Rumors indicated Jenkins' killing was deemed "street justice" because he had spoken to investigators about a previous murder and provided a written statement that got circulated on the city's East Side.
Deandre Bradley, 27, was fatally shot at a party on King Street in July 2012, reportedly for telling police who robbed him the previous year. Friends of the suspect had warned him not to testify and one is accused of killing him.
In addition, witnesses to the August 2010 shooting of Travis Antwan Anderson, 20, on Norman Street found themselves under attack online after their statements to investigators ended up in the wrong hands, police said. A friend of the accused shooter posted witness statements and police reports on Facebook, allowing friends to disparage the cooperating witnesses with online comments.
Charleston police Sgt. David Osborne said such blowback can make it extremely difficult to get people to cooperate with police, particularly in tight-knit areas like the city's East Side. Witnesses are often fearful of their names getting out on the streets.
"So we have to be really careful where and when we interview witnesses," he said.
Osborne worked on several of the cases listed above, as well as the Chisolm case on trial this week.
One witness to the killing told him: "If I come talk to you, this is my life on the street at stake and they're going to come back and do something to me."
Chisolm's half-brother, who ended up testifying, was also approached by a man who told him, "If you have a problem, you should handle it on the street, not testify," Osborne said.
Osborne told the witness it was wrong that his half-brother had been gunned down in the street and it would be worse if no one came forward to explain what happened. "I said 'At least give the system an opportunity to bring justice for your brother,'" he said.
His words worked, and the witness took the stand.
Keeping them safe
Other law enforcement agencies also have dealt with these challenges.
The Charleston County Sheriff's Office, for example, investigated in 2010 after a witness in a murder case was caught in a hail of bullets in West Ashley's Ponderosa subdivision.
George Brown, then-26, had submitted a written statement about seeing a 2008 Halloween shooting death in West Ashley. As the case neared trial, he was shot six times after he and his brother stepped outside their Corral Drive home to investigate noises. After that scare, he denied ever making the statement to investigators.
The suspect in the Halloween murder was later acquitted at trial. Brown, on the other hand, is now serving a 28-year sentence for his role in the June 2012 slaying of 17-year-old Marley Lion during a West Ashley robbery attempt.
The Sheriff's Office has secreted witnesses to hotels and assigned deputies to protect them during trials if a threat emerges, Maj. Eric Watson said.
Sheriff Al Cannon said his deputies err on the side of safety and do everything they can to keep witnesses safe. "But if we don't know a specific threat has been made, it's hard for us to do something about it."
South Carolina doesn't have a witness protection program, and funds for relocating witnesses aren't ample, particularly if a trial is months or years away, Wilson said.
Wilson said it's imperative that offenders who try to bully or harm witnesses be aggressively prosecuted and handed harsh sentences. A charge of intimidation of a witness is a felony count that carries up to 10 years in prison.
Wilson said communities also need to take a stand, resist intimidation and work with authorities to get rid of the bad apples spreading fear and violence on the streets.
"I know it's easy for me to say when I'm not the one who is in immediate danger that is real," she said. "But until those communities that are seeing this happen stand up and face it head on, it's not going to get better."
Christina Elmore contributed to this report. Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.
Deandre Bradley, 27, was murdered Saturday in a shooting outside a home, at 703 King St.×
Terrell Taylor mug. Photo provided by Taylor family.×
John ""Pap"" Jenkins, 67, was shot to death in Charleston on September 21, 2010. Photo is from Viet Nam era. Provided photo.×
metro- Michael Rudolph Marshall, 30, of Columbus Street. Marshall was shot multiple times on the sidewalk near 41 Nassau St. on June 16, 2004. He was found lying on his side after reports of several gunshots in the area. Charleston police have made no arrests.×
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