Slaying suspect opts not to testify

Jermel Brown was found dead June 29 beneath an Interstate 26 overpass.

Testimony in Rafael Horlbeck's murder trial came to an end Wednesday with the defendant opting against taking the witness stand to rebut claims he gunned down 15-year-old Jermel Brown in Charleston last year.

Closing arguments are scheduled to take place this morning at the Charleston County Judicial Center. It will then be up to a jury to decide Horlbeck's fate.

The 23-year-old suspect is accused of fatally shooting the teen June 29 beneath an Interstate 26 overpass near Huger Street. The killing occurred after Jermel's twin brother, Jermaine, failed to make good on a $200 debt to Horlbeck for marijuana Jermaine had been given to sell, witnesses told the jury during three days of testimony.

Dr. Erin Presnell, the forensic pathologist who conducted Jermel's autopsy, was the prosecution's final witness. She testified the teen died after being shot twice in the head and once through the right arm. He also had numerous cuts and bruises, including a slice across his neck consistent with a sharp object, such as a razor blade, she said.

Horlbeck's older brother, Leon, and former friend Shawn Smalls testified Tuesday that Rafael went after Jermel in the back seat of a Ford Explorer with a razor blade in his hand. Jermel tried to escape out the window and Rafael shot him after Smalls maneuvered the SUV below the overpass, they said.

Defense lawyers have insisted Leon Horlbeck and Smalls, who also face murder charges in the case, are framing Rafael to improve their odds of avoiding prison. On cross-examination, his public defenders repeatedly pointed out inconsistencies in the pair's stories.

The defense rested its case Wednesday without calling a single witness. When Circuit Judge Deadra Jefferson asked Rafael Horlbeck if he wished to testify in his own defense, he shook his head and said, "No, ma'am."

Rodney Davis, one of Horlbeck's public defenders, asked the judge to issue a directed verdict in his favor, arguing that the state had offered only "mere speculation as to my client's guilt." Jefferson disagreed, saying there clearly was sufficient evidence to send the case to the jury.