COLUMBIA — A former South Carolina police chief went on trial again Monday in the killing of an unarmed black man in a case that drew national attention in the aftermath of racially charged deaths around the country.
Richard Combs, who is white, is charged with murder in the May 2011 shooting death of Bernard Bailey. His first trial in Orangeburg ended in a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a verdict.
Neither the defense nor the prosecution has said race played a factor in Bailey’s death during the first trial or in opening statements for the second trial, which was moved to Columbia.
Wally Fayssoux, the attorney representing the former Eutawville police chief, said Monday the defense would again argue that Combs shot Bailey in self-defense under South Carolina’s “Stand Your Ground” law.
That claim was countered by the prosecutor, 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe, who told jurors Combs acted with “malice” and “reckless disregard” when he confronted Bailey with a “trumped-up” warrant for an obstruction-of-justice charge on May 2, 2011.
The confrontation with Combs stemmed from a dispute the men had two months earlier over a ticket Combs issued to Bailey’s daughter, Briana, for driving with a broken taillight.
Their dispute should’ve ended that night in March, but Combs requested a warrant three days later, Pascoe said. Combs tried to serve the warrant on May 2, when Bailey showed up at the rural community’s town hall to discuss the ticket.
In “natural shock,” Bailey — an assistant Wal-Mart manager and retired prison guard — walked out of the building and hopped in his truck, Pascoe said. Combs gave chase and placed himself inside the driver’s door, preventing it from being shut.
“The defendant put three bullets in him,” Pascoe added. “Dead, over a broken taillight.”
Fayssoux said Bailey ignored Combs’ commands to stop when presented with the warrant. Bailey — described in court as 6 foot 6 inches tall and 280 pounds — overpowered Combs, Fayssoux said.
He also stressed to the jury that whatever they decide at the end of the day, there are no winners in the case.
“There is never a winner when there’s a loss of life,” Fayssoux said. “No matter what you do, nobody can win this case. So it can’t be about winning. It’s about a quest for the truth.”
Combs faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted.
Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Capt. Lacra Jenkins testified that he was the first to arrive after the shooting. He said Combs told him that he was being dragged and had to shoot Bailey.
Yet, Jenkins testified he didn’t notice anything on Combs — such as a disheveled uniform, scuffs, bumps, bruises or scrapes — that was consistent with being dragged.
Jenkins added that Combs said there was a brief struggle between him and Bailey. But Combs never told Jenkins that he feared for his life or that he feared he was about to die.
“My initial report stated that he appeared to be shaken at the time,” Jenkins said. “He was shaken.”
Testimony ended just before 4:30 p.m. The trial is scheduled to resume Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.
Staff writer Christina Elmore contributed to this story. Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.