Suspect rejects plea deal

Darnell White, accused of killing a downtown Charleston man on King Street on Sept. 2, 2009. Provided photo 10/2012

A North Charleston man accused of killing a downtown Charleston man three years ago will take his chances with a jury.

Darnell White, 28, of Osceola Street rejected a deal that could have cut his potential sentence by more than half.

He’s been in jail since 2009, charged with murder in the death of 29-year-old Kevin Lamar Johnson.

The Ninth Circuit Solicitor’s Office offered White a negotiated sentence of 10 years, 85 percent of which he’d be required to serve, if he pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter.

In a plea hearing Monday in Charleston County, White decided against accepting the deal.

“You’ve instructed your lawyer that you don’t want to accept that and face the possibility of a life sentence?” Circuit Judge Markley Dennis asked White.

White nodded his head and said “yes.” So, instead, he’ll go to trial and face the possibility of 30 years to life in prison, if convicted.

He’s accused of shooting Johnson to death on upper King Street on Sept. 2, 2009. Witnesses told investigators White and Johnson were arguing and White fired a shot, according to an arrest warrant. It also stated a witness told investigators that as they ran, they could hear seven to eight additional shots.

Charleston police found a .40-caliber handgun under Johnson’s body, along with a shell casing for that weapon, according to the warrant. Shell casings from a 9 mm handgun also were found near the body, it states.

Police have said the two men exchanged gunfire in a duel. White originally was also charged with killing during a duel, a charge his family questioned following his arrest.

“I don’t understand what they’re saying about a duel,” White’s aunt, Fouche Sheppard, said following the bond hearing in 2009.

Sheppard had said it was her understanding that Johnson was riding away on a bicycle when he was shot, making her question how it could be a duel if Johnson was leaving, she said in 2009.

The law deemed that anyone convicted of killing in a duel was punishable by death. White’s attorney, Ted Smith, said the law was repealed by the Legislature in 2010. The charge against White was automatically dismissed, he said.

White will now await a trial in which a jury will decide if he’s guilty of murder.

Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.