Threats preceded stabbing


Two Mount Pleasant high school students traded dueling threats through text messages in January before a fight in which one of them fatally stabbed the other, a prosecutor said Friday.

The latest wrinkle in the homicide case that jolted the Park West subdivision and captured headlines worldwide was revealed during a bond hearing for 16-year-old Matthew Fischer, who has been jailed since the Jan. 18 slaying.

A judge granted $100,000 bail, but he ordered the teenager to stay at his home in the Dunes West neighborhood and to keep off social media. Fischer was released later in the day.

The ruling came after the father of 17-year-old Luke Cavanaugh pleaded with the judge not to set free the boy he called a devil with “horns on his head.”

Fischer stabbed Cavanaugh, a fellow Wando High School student from Sullivan’s Island, during their scuffle in the middle of Baltusrol Lane. Dave Cavanaugh said Fischer had taken the life of his “peace-loving, friendly, empathetic” son.

“He will always be the boogeyman,” Dave Cavanaugh said of Fischer. “If this monster had 1 percent of the empathy my boy had, he could never even envision stabbing and stabbing and stabbing until my boy’s insides were on the ground. ... I will always hate that monster.”

Few details have emerged since the week of the killing, but Assistant Solicitor Greg Voigt said for the first time during Friday’s hearing that both the suspect and the victim exchanged threatening text messages before they met that night.

The development indicates a possible defense for Fischer and the two attorneys his family has hired, Peter Brown of Mount Pleasant and Andy Savage of Charleston.

Savage said that he and Brown were still getting evidence from the stabbing scene but that their preliminary investigation didn’t support authorities’ version of the events.

“We are also taking a hard look at the developing evidence related to the activities of a number of related parties in the hours and days prior to the incident,” he said in an email. “Once we have completed our investigation, we will evaluate what legal steps we will take that are in the best long-term interest of this child.”

Fisher was visiting his girlfriend’s home when he saw the messages that Luke Cavanaugh sent to the girl on the social media messenger Snapchat, the Mount Pleasant Police Department has said. The application is designed to destroy the messages seconds after they’re viewed.

In the messages on the girlfriend’s Apple iPod, Fischer lured Cavanaugh to the home in The Gates community and threatened to kill him, Voigt said.

“Cavanaugh responded that he would come over and that he would ... beat Mr. Fischer up,” the prosecutor added.

But Fischer, according to Voigt, armed himself with a knife before he went outside and waited for Cavanaugh to show up. When Cavanaugh got there, the two started fighting in the street outside the girlfriend’s duplex, and Fischer stabbed him, “essentially disemboweling him.”

Fischer dropped the knife. He left in his car but soon returned with his mother, the authorities have said. He acknowledged to detectives that he had stabbed Cavanaugh, and he has been held in juvenile detention since then.

Though he’s 16, Fischer is charged as an adult because he’s accused of a violent crime. He faces counts of murder and possession of a knife in a violent crime.

In a written motion for the bond hearing, his attorneys said that Fischer “enjoys an excellent reputation in his community” and that keeping him locked up would jeopardize his ability to help prepare his defense for trial.

The prosecutor added in the downtown Charleston courthouse Friday that a past arrest for Fischer came in connection with vandalism at a construction site.

His loved ones and a large contingent of Cavanaugh’s family and friends filled the courtroom. Some were forced to wait outside.

Savage, one of Fischer’s attorneys, pointed out his client’s mother and father, Joey Fischer, the CEO of Southeastern Spine Institute. But the parents did not speak.

Savage told 9th Circuit Judge Markley Dennis that a host of neighbors also showed up and were willing to speak favorably about Fischer.

“They are our community,” the attorney said. “They’re vouching to this court ... that they don’t believe he’s a danger.”

But Voigt said the intense “physical interaction” of such a stabbing indicated otherwise.

Cavanaugh’s father added that just imagining the stabbing made him feel nauseated.

He said Fischer was the “one person in this whole world” he hates. The thought of him being released into a community of other high school-age children struck fear in Dave Cavanaugh.

“I feel a fatherly connection to those kids all around,” the father said. “The fact that he could be amongst them with a (monitoring) bracelet on and potentially walk out the door and be true to his nature terrifies me.”

He and his wife, Beth, stood in front of Dennis with their own attorney, Steve Schmutz of Charleston. Beth Cavanaugh cried, and her voice trailed off as she gave a brief statement.

“We just want to focus on remembering and honoring the life of our amazing son,” she said. “We trust the judicial process will work its course.”

Dennis ordered Fischer to wear a satellite-tracking device while on house arrest and to avoid using the Internet altogether. He encouraged the teen, who was clad in red-and-white striped jail garb with shackles on his ankles and wrists, to have his Facebook profile deleted.

Fischer also cannot have any contact with children his age or go to church, where some of them might be, Dennis said.

The judge explained to Cavanaugh’s parents that he was bound by law to issue bail because Fischer is not charged with a capital crime. But Dennis also drew from a personal experience in offering the couple advice.

The judge’s father had hated the man who killed his grandfather until the day he died at 81, Dennis said.

“I wish he hadn’t,” the judge told Cavanaugh’s parents. “He was hurting himself ... and I watched it. But I’m not preaching to you because I understand the feelings you have.”

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