Trial for 2006 killing to begin today

William Oliver Dickerson, 32, is accused of torturing and killing Gerard Roper in a James Island apartment in March 2006.

Charleston County's first death penalty trial in more than five years will begin today, and William Oliver Dickerson will find out whether he will meet the same fate as his father, who was convicted of murder and died in prison.

Dickerson, 32, is accused of murdering Gerard Roper in a Fleming Road apartment on James Island three years ago.

The vast majority of Charleston County murder cases don't involve the death penalty, which is handed down only if there are aggravating circumstances.

In this case, police say Dickerson tortured Roper, removing two of his front teeth, burning part of his body and sodomizing him with a gun and broom handle, before strangling him in March 2006.

Circuit Judge R. Markley Dennis will preside over the case, which is set to begin today with jury selection. Opening arguments could be delivered later this week.

The trial could consist of two parts. If Dickerson is convicted of murder, then lawyers will proceed to a second phase that will determine if he will be sentenced to death.

Neither Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson nor defense attorney Jeffrey Bloom would comment much on the case.

"I can tell you, as a matter of record, Mr. Dickerson has entered a not guilty plea," Bloom said last week. "We'll be vigorously proceeding to trial and zealously defending him in that regard."

Dickerson has a long arrest record and was convicted in 1998 on a charge of assault and battery with intent to kill.

Last year, police charged three others in connection with the crime, including Dickerson's brother Armon Dickerson, Selena K. Rouse of

Sanford, Fla., and Rashid Abdullah Malik.

Armon Dickerson faces charges of murder, unlawful carrying of a pistol and dealing drugs. Rouse faces charges of obstructing justice and being an accessory after the fact of a felony, while Malik faces a murder charge. All those charges are pending.

Dickerson's father, also named William Oliver Dickerson, died in Lieber Correctional Institution in October 2001.

He was there serving time in connection with the 1996 stabbing death of Mary Middleton of West Ashley.

The elder Dickerson was working as a ward keeper assistant and had only one minor disciplinary infraction before he died of natural causes, S.C. Department of Corrections communications director Josh Gelinas said.

While death penalty cases have been relatively rare in the Lowcountry in recent years, Dickerson's is the first of five — three in Charleston and Berkeley counties and two in Dorchester County — on tap in the coming months.