COLUMBIA - An attorney for a Laurens County man charged with murder is asking a judge to order the victim's mother to stop posting about her daughter's death and the criminal case on Facebook and other social media sites.
Advocates for victims said it appears to be an unprecedented request in South Carolina, and the mother of 19-year-old Emily Asbill said she will fight the motion.
"This has been a healing process to me to be able to talk about things and have people pray for me. If I am shut down, I don't know what I'm going to do," said Asbill's mother, Emily Joy, on Thursday.
Authorities said Michael Beaty Jr., 30, strangled Asbill, who was his girlfriend, while the two were at a party in Clinton in June. Several other people at the party were charged with providing the teen with alcohol and drugs, and another man is charged as an accessory after the fact of murder.
Defense attorneys and prosecutors agreed to their own gag order in the case, but at a hearing last month, Beaty's lawyer Charles Grose asked that the gag order be extended to Asbill's family. The judge has given no indication of when he might rule on the request.
Grose said Thursday he couldn't talk at length about his request because of the agreement with prosecutors. But he said Beaty can't get a fair trial in Laurens County if Asbill's mother keeps posting and speaking at rallies like one called "No More Lies and Bruises" in Greenwood, held in March to raise money for a shelter for domestic violence victims.
"We want this case handled in the courtroom. We think all the information should come out in the courtroom where both sides have the same chance to respond," Grose said.
In his motion, Grose includes pages of Facebook postings from Joy's personal page and the "Emily-Anna Asbill memorial page" she maintains. Most of them are pictures of her daughter, links to stories about other domestic violence cases and request for prayers. She also links to other family members such as her sister, who before last month's hearing posted: "Our love and support will surpass. NOBODY deserves to die at another's hands. Please continue to pray for our family, and especially for Emily Anna's spirit."
At the hearing, Grose suggested Asbill may have been violent toward Beaty as well.
"This has gone far beyond a grieving family. Mr. Beaty is being called a murderer in Facebook and in a public place in Greenwood," Grose said at the hearing, according to the weekly newspaper The Clinton Chronicle.
But Joy said she has carefully selects her words because she doesn't want anything to mess up her daughter's chance for justice. When asked why she feels like she needs to speak out at rallies and keep the memorial page, she pauses for several seconds.
"Let me see how I can put this," Joy said. "I think that people need to be educated about domestic violence."
An advocate for crime victims said she understands the need for a fair trial and recommends that victims and their families not talk about the facts of the case. But she has never heard of a judge considering a ban on letting them talk about a case at all.
"Social media has really become a support group. It gives people hope at the end of the tunnel. I'd hate to see a judge take that away," said South Carolina Crime Victims Council Executive Director Laura Hudson.
While Judge Eugene Griffith Jr. hasn't decided, he did say at last month's hearing that he thinks social media has made it tougher to ensure fair trials.
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