Man gets 15-year sentence for deadly ‘sucker-punch’

Dalton Ellis Clarke, 25.

A jury on Thursday convicted a man of throwing the punch that killed 27-year-old Clinton Seymour during a 2014 confrontation in downtown Charleston.

Dalton Ellis Clarke, 25, of Anna Knapp Boulevard in Mount Pleasant was found guilty of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature after the jury deliberated for four hours.

After hearing accounts of past drunken fights involving Clarke and words from the defendant’s family, who portrayed him as a kind person, Circuit Judge Benjamin Culbertson sentenced him to 15 years in prison, five shy of the maximum on the felony charge.

The verdict marked the closing chapter of a four-day trial for Clarke, whose defense was based partially on a mistaken arrest early in the police probe. The 12 jurors did not ponder a murder charge against Clarke because prosecutors did not contend that he meant to kill Seymour, a Johns Island resident and former college baseball player who worked for Merrill Lynch.

Satisfied with the result, the victim’s father, Don Seymour of Seabrook Island, said the trial gave the family a chance to air some words typed on his son’s cellphone when he died: “If you do things for the right reason, you’ll never be wrong.”

“Mr. Clarke did something without even thinking about the reason,” Don Seymour said. “Young people his age who go out and think about doing things they shouldn’t do, I would just encourage them to think about my son’s words.”

Opposing attorneys in the trial had pointed out testimony that implicated two different men: Clarke and Peter Dudinyak Jr., who was arrested early on, then cleared once the police found evidence pointing to Clarke.

The encounter started with a joke between passing groups of revelers around 2 a.m. April 26 near King and Morris streets. Someone then “sucker-punched” Seymour in the back of the head, fracturing his skull.

Others threw punches at each other, too, but Seymour suffered the single blow that knocked him out. The designated driver died two days later.

Clarke’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Jason King, told the jurors during closing arguments that one of three eyewitnesses for the defense implicated a left-handed man, like Dudinyak.

Clarke is right-handed. Charleston Police Department detectives, he said, ignored red flags in witnesses with no motive to lie. Clarke became a suspect as a result of gossip afterward, King added.

“Once that rumor starts that (Clarke) did this,” he said, “it’s a powerful rumor.”

But Assistant Solicitor Chad Simpson highlighted what he called eight confessions, either in Clarke’s own words or in testimony about what Clarke said. “If (Seymour is) the guy I knocked out, why didn’t I get pointed out?” Clarke said in text messages to a friend, according to the prosecutor.

The defense witnesses likely had seen Dudinyak hit someone, but it wasn’t Seymour, the prosecutor said.

“It’s time for (Clarke),” he said, “to face the consequences of taking a very special (person).”

After Seymour’s death, a baseball stadium at the high school near Pittsburgh, where Seymour was raised, was renamed in his honor. He was always a competitor, his family said, but someone punching him from behind didn’t give him a chance to survive that day two years ago.

His sister, Carly, told the judge after the verdict that her brother had died the day after her birthday. Her gift was found in his car. She won’t be able to remember in the future what she received for presents that year.

“What will haunt me on every birthday to come,” she said, “was what I lost.”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 843-937-5414.