Suspect in woman’s death has history of legal issues

Katrina Benton (right) reaches out to hug Pam Norkett after meeting for the first time outside the Hill-Finklea Detention Center after James Carpenter refused to go to a bond hearing. The two James Island women’s daughters were friends of Jasmine Marrone, whom Carpenter is accused of killing.

As a recovering drug user, Jasmine Isabella Marrone wanted to make amends with the people she might have hurt during her addiction.

The 21-year-old had been a drifter. She spent time in California, Philadelphia and Tennessee. But she seemed to make fast friends in Charleston, where she arrived at least three years ago.

After leaving earlier this year to live with her mother in Nashville, Marrone recently returned to catch up with friends. She planned to say goodbye and drive back to Tennessee this week.

“She said sorry to a lot of people she created drama with when she was abusing,” said a friend, 20-year-old Haley Brown of James Island. “She brought a lot of things together so she could feel closure.”

But at some point, in a meeting with one of those people she considered a friend, something went wrong.

She was strangled to death, and her body was found early Sunday in her Nissan coupe outside a Circle K store in Summerville.

James Randall Carpenter Jr., 33, was handcuffed by police officers responding to reports of a drunken man.

Carpenter had been released Friday after a stay in the Charleston County jail on a count of failing to show up for a court appearance on an August 2011 fraud charge. He also has an arrest on a third-degree battery charge from February 2011.

The Summerville Police Department said Carpenter also had been wanted for obstruction of justice in Texas.

Reached by phone Monday, his father, Jim Carpenter of Austin, said he was unaware that his son had returned to Charleston and instead thought he was in Mexico City.

“He’s just had trouble since a childhood accident,” Jim Carpenter said without elaborating. “He was only 5 years old.”

James Carpenter had worked as a cook in the Charleston area, including a stint at a Greek restaurant on James Island early last year.

That’s when Kyle Bilik got to know him.

Carpenter moved in with Bilik’s girlfriend after she advertised for a roommate on Craigslist, Bilik said. The agreement was cordial for a while.

It was common for Carpenter to strike up an argument, but it never turned violent until one February night. A police report stated that Carpenter drank five beers and hit another person in his apartment, then fought with Bilik.

Charleston police officers arrested him.

“Then he was in a blind rage in the back of the patrol car,” said Bilik, 23, of Charleston. “He was saying some deep-down, dirty threats of violence.”

After his release from jail the next day, Carpenter was homeless. He was walking down Folly Road and “looking distraught” when Allen Eadie, 27, said he gave Carpenter a ride and a place to live.

What turned into a close friendship went awry, though, when they both were implicated in a burglary at a James Island home in July 2011. Police said Carpenter used a credit card stolen from the house to buy a $100 Bi-Lo gift card, but Eadie was charged with the break-in.

During his burglary trial Wednesday, Eadie said Carpenter testified and took the blame for the burglary. Eadie was acquitted.

“We had our problems, but he was like a brother to me,” Eadie said. “He drank, but it never got out of hand.”

Carpenter had been jailed during Eadie’s trial on the charge of using the stolen credit card, but he was released at 9:30 p.m. Friday.

In less than 24 hours, he was standing next to Marrone in the parking lot of a Food Lion on Folly Road.

That’s where Katrina Benton said she met with Marrone.

The talk between Marrone and Benton — whose daughter once dated Marrone — was much like others Marrone had struck up during recent weeks with old friends.

Those friends knew her as an animal lover, a fan of the color black and of metal rock bands, an expert with a skateboard and generally always happy and ready to make new friends.

That’s why Benton didn’t think much of Carpenter, whom she had never met before Saturday night, when Marrone introduced him as a friend.

“She was happy and laughing,” Benton said. “He didn’t say anything. He just stood there with his hands in his pockets.”

Before they left in her 1990 Nissan 240SX, Marrone said they would be hanging out at a bar that evening. Marrone hugged Benton and promised to meet with her again before she moved back to Nashville for good.

“My husband had a weird feeling about him,” Benton said. “We should have called her and told her to come back.”

Around 7:30 the next morning, Summerville police officers responded to the Circle K at 1330 N. Main St. They spotted Marrone’s Nissan, which matched the description of a car possibly driven by a drunken man.

Carpenter was ordered from the car but insisted that he was doing nothing wrong. He paced and asked to leave, saying he needed to be at his mother’s funeral in 30 minutes, according to an incident report.

Officers remarked at the blood on his shirt, which he attributed to a fight with his brother in Goose Creek.

He was handcuffed just before police found Marrone’s body under a blanket in the backseat.

“She hit me and I hit her back,” he told officers, according to the report.

Carpenter spat “several times in the officers’ faces” and kicked at them as they escorted him to a patrol car, the report states.

An autopsy Monday revealed that Marrone died of strangulation.

But police also found a small sledgehammer in the car and evidence of what appeared to be blunt-force trauma to her head, according to an affidivat filed for Carpenter’s bond hearing Monday night.

Carpenter didn’t have a bond hearing. Deputies told Magistrate McGregor Dennis that Carpenter fought with officers and refused to cooperate and had to be put back in his cell.

The judge said an inmate can refuse a bond hearing, and a second hearing scheduled for this morning was canceled.

Dave Munday contributed to this report. Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.