More than four years after a fistfight at a North Charleston nightclub led to three mothers being shot — two of them fatally — the final suspect in the case has been sentenced.
But for prosecutor Culver Kidd, the case has not concluded as he once hoped. Lack of physical evidence coupled with a "no snitching" code led to lesser charges and plea deals for crimes he called horrendous.
On Friday, 29-year-old Curtis Taron Hamilton of James Island pleaded guilty to one count of being an accessory after a felony and received a 90-day sentence. He was immediately released because of the time he had already spent in jail, Kidd said.
Authorities laid out the circumstances behind the shootings.
On New Year’s Day 2014, Montreal Ford, 22, and Jimmie Harris, 25, got into a fight at Club Crucial on Ashley Phosphate Road. Hamilton was with Ford.
Shortly before 5 a.m., Harris went to 2315 Aintree Ave. and fired several shots through the front door. Ford's mother, 41-year-old Sabrina Green, was wounded.
Around 5:40 a.m., Hamilton gave Ford a ride to 3991 Niagra St. Hamilton circled the block as Ford fired through the home's walls, killing 52-year-old Janet Royal, Harris' stepmother.
Hamilton then drove to a body of water, where Ford threw away the murder weapon.
About 6:40 p.m., Harris went to 4419 Ventura Ave. and fired several rounds into the home, killing 49-year-old Debra Randall Martin.
According to Kidd, investigators believe that the final shooting was a case of mistaken identity and that Harris targeted the woman because he thought her son had accompanied Ford during the prior shooting.
Kidd also prosecuted Ford's case.
In December 2016, Ford pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 17 years in prison. He also pleaded guilty to attempted murder for a March 2014 shooting and got five years of probation.
"My main frustration was with Ford's deal," Kidd said. "It's a little frustrating how this whole case unfolded."
While it's uncommon for defendants to offer information freely, the defendants associated with this series of shootings were particularly reticent, the prosecutor said. Each refused to testify against the other.
Getting someone accused of a crime to testify or offer evidence against an accomplice often takes significant leverage from prosecutors or encouragement from parents or other family members to step up and do the right thing, Kidd said. This case had neither.
Despite being named as a suspect, Harris has not been charged in connection with the shootings because he pleaded guilty in an unrelated federal case for shooting a witness in a drug investigation. He was sentenced to more than 45 years in federal prison.
Local authorities have been working with federal officials on a way to serve Harris with arrest warrants and formally charge him.
Another man, Hikeem Javasea Devoy Reaves, then 22, of St. Ives Road, had been accused of helping Harris get rid of a gun used in the first shooting, but the accessory charge against him was dropped last year, when prosecutors cited a lack of evidence.
Ultimately, Kidd said he recognizes that Harris was the main bad actor and that Ford reacted in retaliation after discovering his mother was shot.
Hamilton, he said, had relatively minor involvement compared with the other men and did not have an extensive criminal record.
Still, seeing relatively minimal consequences for crimes that left two mothers dead and another injured weighs on the assistant solicitor with the 9th Circuit Solicitor's Office.
"It doesn't feel good," Kidd said.