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Suspect in 2016 Aiken County murder to be released after 2 mistrials, almost 5 years in jail

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Dawon Jacques Wells is pictured in the courtroom at the Aiken County Judicial Center for a retrial in 2020. Wells was on trial for the 2016 murder of Denzel Bates.  (Staff)

After spending almost five years in jail, Dawon Wells, who was charged in the murder of Denzel Bates, is set to be released from the Aiken County detention center .

On Friday afternoon, Solicitor Bill Weeks confirmed the murder charge against Wells will be dismissed early next week.

Wells, 22, of Aiken, was charged with one count of murder, two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime and unlawful carrying of a pistol in connection to the 2016 murder of Bates.

He has been on trial twice for the murder, in February 2019 and August 2020; the jury was deadlocked in both trials, resulting in two mistrials.

The third trial was expected to take place during the second week of December, according to South Carolina’s 2nd Judicial Circuit Solicitor Bill Weeks. However, after a lead witness changed his story, the prosecution did not think they had enough evidence to get a conviction, Weeks said.

"The main witness that said he saw the defendant shoot Bates multiple times and dump him in the back of his pickup truck, did not want to testify," Weeks said. "My office worked our butts off to get justice for this family and we don't ever try anybody we don't think is guilty. But I couldn't get 12 people on two different juries to agree with us, so this is the only option left to me when I evaluate the evidence I had available for the third trial. I know the family's upset – and I don't blame them."

John Delgado, Wells' defense attorney, said when he talked to Wells on the phone Friday, he was ecstatic to be going home.

"In March of next year, he would have been in jail for five years on this charge," Delgado said. "Solicitor Weeks has to be commended on the dismissal of the case because it was in the interest of justice. This should have been done a long time ago, and I'm sorry to say that it's taken us this long to get it done."

Charges against Wells' mother and one of his friends are also expected to be dismissed, Delgado said. 

Tiffany Nicole Grimes and Johnny Renard Frazier were both charged with accessory after the fact of murder, according to jail records.

Bates' grandmother, Kitty Walker, said the Bates family is very disappointed with the dismissal.

"I feel like the system failed my family, Denzel and his kids," Walker said. "I hope that, one day, me and my family will get justice for Denzel; but, for now, we're just going to put it in God's hands and let God handle it."

Charges while incarcerated

Although Wells' charges in relation to the 2016 murder were dismissed, he still faces charges related to an incident that occurred while he was incarcerated.

In December 2020, Wells was charged with third-degree assault and battery by a mob while incarcerated at the Aiken County detention center.

Police stated “Dawon Wells walked up behind [an officer] and punched [him] in the right side jaw area” after “swinging and striking” another inmate, according to an incident report obtained from the Aiken County detention center.

Delgado said he expects Dawon to make bail for those charges after the charges related to the 2016 murder are officially dismissed next week.

The murder

On Sept. 21, 2016, Aiken Department of Public Safety officers responded to Rushton Road near Wrights Mill Road, where Bates’ body was discovered in the bed of a Dodge truck.

A six-month investigation into the murder led to the arrest of Wells in March 2017.

Wells pleaded not guilty to the charges of murder, two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime and unlawful carrying of a pistol.

During the original trial in February 2019, the jury was deadlocked twice, and the judge declared a mistrial. During the second trial in August 2020, the jury was again unable to reach an unanimous verdict, and the judge declared another mistrial.

The state brought several witnesses forward during the second trial, including one of Wells’ former friends, who testified he witnessed Wells shoot Bates outside Wells’ home on George Street in Crosland Park on Sept. 21, 2016, according to a previous Aiken Standard article.

Rakish Breon Jenkins, 20, of Aiken, claimed to have been standing by Wells in the driveway when the shooting occurred, going as far to say Wells shot Bates multiple times to “make sure he was dead,” according to the article.

Jenkins has since retracted his testimony, leading to the case's dismissal.

Breaking news. This story will be updates as new information becomes available.

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