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Prosecutors weigh whether teens in Charleston homicide should be charged as adults

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King Street Shooting (copy)

Charleston police officers investigate the Friday shooting death on King Street at Clifford Street. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

The two teenagers charged in the peninsular shooting death Friday of the husband of College of Charleston’s chief academic officer could ultimately be tried as adults.

Under South Carolina law, offenders under the age of 18 are considered juveniles. But the law allows for a child of any age to be tried as an adult on a charge of murder, and this has happened on many occasions.

Prosecutors must first petition the Family Court to waive the juvenile up to General Sessions court to be tried as an adult. This would involve evaluations of the offenders and a hearing before a Family Court judge, a process likely to take several weeks, at a minimum.

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said Saturday it is too early to say whether her office will seek to have the suspects in the King Street homicide tried as adults. She said prosecutors still have to review the case and other factors before making a determination.

"It is something we are strongly considering," she said.

Chief Luther Reynolds said that the needlessness of the crime itself led him to feel that anyone who'd do such a thing be charged as an adult.

"This is a heinous, senseless, terrible crime," Reynolds said Saturday. "How do you have a 15- and 16-year-old with that kind of rage? ... People demand justice when there's a senseless killing."

With a small number of criminals responsible for most crimes on the peninsula, Reynolds said, officials need to identify those likely to reoffend and ensure they're kept behind bars. 

Mentoring and rehabilitation should be prioritized in justice, Reynolds said, but his focus is keeping the peninsula safe. While the shooting was an isolated incident, he said unaddressed violence from young offenders is often a pattern.

"How horrible is it that we would have young people of this age from communities in this region that would be that violent, and without any hesitation," Reynolds said. "They killed somebody for no reason. And so to me we have to step back and say: How?"

The boys were taken into custody Friday night. They each face one count of murder and attempted armed robbery. One was also charged with possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a violent crime. Authorities said both are from the North Charleston area.

Charleston police found surveillance footage of the 2005 Acura TL that the teens fled in with a third male, according to the department, and found the car later Friday. Officers arrested one suspect on Rutledge Avenue near Mount Pleasant Street, while North Charleston police captured the other in their jurisdiction.

Police spokesman Charles Francis declined to say whether detectives had made any progress in identifying the third person in the car or answer any questions about the case.

Authorities said Tom DiLorenzo and his wife, Suzanne Austin, were walking downtown when two robbers demanded money from them near King and Clifford streets.

DiLorenzo, 63, was shot around 6:15 a.m. and died at Medical University Hospital a short time later.

Shooting victim

Thomas DiLorenzo, 63, was shot Friday morning. Husband of College of Charleston Provost Suzanne Austin, he had recently retired from the University of North Dakota after serving as provost and vice president of academic affairs for seven years. University of North Dakota/Provided

His wife, the college's newly appointed provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, wasn't hurt.

DiLorenzo recently retired from the University of North Dakota after serving as provost and vice president of academic affairs for seven years.

He and Austin moved to Charleston just weeks ago, according to a statement from the college.

Austin, a historian of epidemiology, took office as one of the College of Charleston’s top-ranking officials earlier this month.

She came to Charleston after spending nine years as senior vice provost and senior international officer at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Robberies, shootings and other violent crime are uncommon in the central tourism district. Police keep a steady presence in the area and portions of King Street and the Charleston City Market hub are under the watchful eye of surveillance cameras. 

The King Street corridor, already under constraints because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, was also the site of a May riot and regular protests through the summer.

"Charleston, while unique in so many ways, is a city like any other, where crime can occur anywhere, anytime," College of Charleston President Andrew Hsu said in a Saturday statement to students.

Reynolds said the "big-time anomaly" doesn't concern him as homicides in the city remain low but rekindles his focus on community-based policing and interdepartment relationships.

"It's important that we're accessible, transparent, accountable," he said. 

Police said anyone with information on Friday’s shooting can call the on-duty detective at 843-743-7200.

Reach Sara Coello at 843-937-5705 and follow her on Twitter @smlcoello.

Reach Glenn Smith at 843-937-5556. Follow him on Twitter @glennsmith5.

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