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Death penalty sought in Florence case where 7 SC officers were shot, 2 fatally

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COLUMBIA — Officials will seek the death penalty against a South Carolina man charged with shooting seven police officers in an ambush, killing two of them, officials announced Thursday during a hearing where the defendant twice called the prosecutor "Fat Eddie."

Hearings where prosecutors officially announce a death penalty case are usually routine and just a few minutes long in South Carolina, with the prosecutor reading the legal language.

But Frederick Hopkins, in court in Florence County without his lawyer, told the judge he wanted to speak and complained at length that he wasn't given a preliminary hearing in the time provided by law. He also said armed deputies surrounding him in the courtroom were just looking for a reason to harm him.

"Scratch my nose, maybe, and they would have shot me," Hopkins said.

Hopkins ambushed three Florence County deputies he knew were coming to his home in October 2018 to conduct a search warrant after his son was accused of sexually abusing his children, authorities said.

He then shot four more officers as they rushed to help their wounded co-workers, investigators said.

Florence Police Sgt. Terrence Carraway and Florence County Sheriff's deputy Farrah Turner were killed. Solicitor Ed Clements is seeking the death penalty for the deaths of the officers.

Hopkins, a lawyer who was disbarred in 1984, looked at the prosecutor as he entered the courtroom Thursday and said, "well, if it isn't Fat Eddie."

Hopkins' attorney, Aimee Zmroczek, was not in the courtroom Thursday. Clements said he notified her of the hearing. Circuit Judge Michael Nettles did not question him or Hopkins as to why she wasn't there.

Zmroczek said Thursday afternoon she could not discuss the case because of a gag order that was placed on parties involved in the criminal proceedings. 

That gag order was implemented after The Post and Courier published a story last year that described the deadly standoff when hundreds of rounds of ammunition were fired by police and Hopkins. 

The gag order, however, has not stopped Hopkins from sharing his thoughts with The Post and Courier.

In letters sent to the newspaper, Hopkins complained about his treatment and questioned why deputies never served him with a warrant the day he opened fired on the law enforcement officers. 

"They could have used a robot to serve the warrant, but it takes too much time to set up and use it effectively," Hopkins told The Post and Courier. 

Hopkins also used the letters to The Post and Courier to insult the officers who died on the street in front of his home. 

"I should have taken out more that day and made a firm statement that no one shall be deprived of life, liberty, property or pursuit of happiness in life without just, due process," Hopkins wrote to the newspaper. 

In another 27-page letter Hopkins wrote to The Post and Courier in October 2019, he discussed the death penalty and argued he had been deprived of his constitutional due process rights.

The prosecution’s case, Hopkins told The Post and Courier, is weak for a murder charge alone, much less the death penalty. 

Hopkins also argued that the public events that were held to honor the officers who were killed harmed his ability to receive a fair trial. He suggested those events could bias the jury pool against him. 

It's unclear whether Hopkins will ever face an execution, even if he is convicted. Death penalty cases are often tied up in court for years, where they are subject to numerous appeals. 

Hopkins, who is 75 years old, has told The Post and Courier he has diabetes. And he claimed he is in recovery from some form of cancer.

No matter the consequences, Hopkins made it clear Thursday that he is not going to remain silent during his prosecution. He addressed the court for 8 minutes, even as the judge advised him against it. 

"I'm not your lawyer. But it would probably be in your best interest to not say anything," the judge said, according to a video of the hearing by Florence TV station WPDE.

Hopkins went on to criticize Clements and complain that the solicitor's office had not followed rules regarding criminal evidence.

"Mr. Clements the Third, elegant though he is, dapperly dressed, does not obey the rules of the south Carolina criminal procedures," Hopkins said.

After several more insults against Clements and the magistrates he blamed for the delayed preliminary hearing, Nettles stopped Hopkins.

"Now is not the time to do that," Nettles said.

"I think it is," Hopkins responded.

"No it's not," the judge answered, then abruptly ended the hearing.

Hopkins, his legs shackled to his arms, struggled to gather up an armful of books, legal files and papers. He looked at Clements one more time.

"Thank you Fat Eddie," Hopkins said. "Roll it up and choke on it."

Clements never responded to the insults.

Andrew Brown contributed to this report for The Post and Courier. 

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