ORANGEBURG - The murder trial of former Eutawville police chief Richard Combs will go forward in Orangeburg after a team of defense attorneys opted Tuesday to withdraw their request for a change of venue following a lengthy day of jury selection.
Combs, 38, faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted in the May 2011 slaying of Bernard Bailey, an unarmed black man.
Attorney Wally Fayssoux on Monday argued that intense pretrial publicity would prevent Combs, who is white, from having a fair hearing due to an "inaccuracy of facts" provided to the media and attempts to inject race into the discussion. Fayssoux made similar complaints around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday after spending a full day narrowing a pool of 80-odd men and women into a 12-member jury.
When questioned by Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson, half of the pool rose from their seats and admitted having read and heard about the fatal shooting in mounting news reports.
Combs' indictment drew national attention last month, as it came the same day that a New York grand jury declined to charge an officer there who had killed an unarmed black man. Both decisions came less than two weeks after a grand jury refused to indict a white officer in the death of Michael Brown, another unarmed black man, in Ferguson, Mo.
The shooting in Eutawville occurred after Combs tried to arrest Bailey on an obstruction of justice warrant stemming from a dispute the two men had over a ticket Combs had issued to Bailey's daughter.
The 6-foot-6-inch Bailey stalked off, and Combs chased after him, jumping into the open door of Bailey's truck as he tried to back out of the lot, authorities said. During the scuffle that followed, Bailey was shot twice in the chest and once in the shoulder.
Dickson and attorneys on both sides of the case spent hours debriefing the 40 in private, one by one, to determine the extent of their knowledge of the case and whether they were capable of remaining impartial going into the trial. Of the 12 who were ultimately selected, nine were women. Half were black.
"We were meticulous, engaged their reactions and their demeanors," Fayssoux told the judge, deeming his earlier request for a change of venue as unnecessary considering he approved of the manner in which the jurors were selected. He complained, however, that 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe used the opportunity to keep multiple white males from sitting on the jury.
"That's part of how it is played and there's nothing I can do about it," Fayssoux said, "but I don't believe that was in good faith."
Pascoe rebuffed Fayssoux's statements, arguing that of the 13 people struck by the defense, all were African-American. Pascoe said his own strikes were "race-neutral, every one of them," referencing one potential juror's career as a Eutawville fireman and another who only lived in Orangeburg six months out of the year.
The judge agreed that several people who weren't selected would have made excellent jurors, but he saw no wrongdoing on Pascoe's part.
The jury is expected to hear opening statements Wednesday morning.
Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.