Reputed organized crime figure Paul Mazzell has died at age 82, six years after health concerns helped spring him from a life prison term for murder.
Mazzell, whose February 1983 trial captivated Charleston County with nearly three weeks of testimony, was paroled from Lieber Correctional Institution in Ridgeville in November 2005 after spending some 23 years behind bars. The parole board, which had denied him freedom five times before, finally consented to his release after hearing concerns about Mazzell's advanced age and declining health from heart problems.
Mazzell had more life left in him than many expected, however, and he continued to rail against the criminal justice system after his release, insisting he had been wrongfully convicted of the October 1978 killing of Ricky Seagraves.
Mazzell of Hanahan died March 29 of natural causes while in hospice care, Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury said.
Mazzell was a former club owner who acknowledged an unsavory past, but he long denied the organized crime ties that authorities attributed to him. Prosecutors and police maintained he was a leader of a shadowy and dangerous group known as the Dixie Mafia.
His trial took place five years after Seagraves was abducted by two men at a U.S. Highway 78 convenience store on Oct. 30, 1978. Shots were fired during the attack, and Seagraves was pistol-whipped, dragged from the store and forced into a waiting pickup. He remained missing for three years before Charleston County sheriff's deputies, acting on a tip from a man who was in jail on unrelated charges, unearthed his skeletal remains from a shallow grave off S.C. Highway 61 in West Ashley.
Mazzell insisted he was only an accessory to the crime. He said his involvement was limited to disposing of the body and that Seagraves was dead and "stiff as a board" when he arrived that night.
Mazzell and his attorneys argued for years that another man kidnapped and killed Seagraves. But prosecutors never wavered in their stance that Mazzell was responsible for Seagraves' death and deserved to be in prison.
After winning parole, Mazzell returned to a society he barely recognized and moved in with his older sister. He continued fighting to clear his name, writing to state officials and gathering signatures on a petition to reopen the Seagraves case. More than 700 people signed an online petition for his cause, but nothing came of it.
Mazzell had a particular sore spot for former Solicitor Charlie Condon, whose office prosecuted him. He claimed Condon "conspired to put an innocent man in the electric chair."
Condon, who went on to become state attorney general, said the evidence pointed to Mazzell's guilt and a jury unanimously agreed. He said Mazzell had very effective lawyers over the years and ample opportunities to contest his conviction, but it held strong.
"I don't hold any ill will against him," Condon said of Mazzell. "But at the same time, I did what I thought was right and have no regrets about how the case was handled."
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556.