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S.C. judges have reduced sentences of at least 27 prisoners, including murderers, since 2022

The information was shared after a former CO’s sworn statement helped lead to the 16-year early release of convicted killer Jeroid Price

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Other inmates whose sentence reductions resulted in their immediate release include men charged with burglary, weapon and drug possession, DUI, drug trafficking, kidnapping, assault and battery and murder.

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By Zak Koeske
The State

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina judges have signed off on sentence reductions for more than two-dozen inmates since January of last 2022, including three men convicted of murder, according to data compiled by the South Carolina Department of Corrections.

The information, provided to the governor’s office earlier this week and shared Thursday with The State Media Co., was compiled in response to the recent early release Circuit Court Judge Casey Manning granted convicted murderer Jeriod Price.

Price, also referred to as Jeroid Price, was quietly released in mid-March after serving 19 years of a 35-year murder sentence. His release followed a secret meeting between his defense attorney, state Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, and 5th Circuit Solicitor Byron Gipson, that the South Carolina Supreme Court later voided.

The high court ordered that Price be returned to prison, but he has not complied with the order and is considered a fugitive whose whereabouts are unknown. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and Richland County Sheriff’s Office this week offered a $30,000 reward for information that leads to his capture.

Price is one of at least 27 South Carolina inmates whose sentences were reduced by judicial order since 2022 and one of eight whose reductions resulted in their immediate release from prison, according to SCDC data.

Other inmates whose sentence reductions resulted in their immediate release include men charged with burglary, weapon and drug possession, DUI, drug trafficking, kidnapping, assault and battery and murder.

“This report highlights the need for tougher criminal penalties and confirms the General Assembly needs to act today to close the revolving door on violent offenders and crack down on career criminals and illegal guns,” Brandon Charochak, a spokesman for Gov. Henry McMaster, said in a statement Thursday.

State lawmakers from both chambers are in the process of hashing out a compromise bond reform bill that seeks to punish people who commit violent crimes while out on bond awaiting trial on prior violent charges. McMaster has asked lawmakers to pass the bill before the legislative session ends Thursday.

Released early

Nicholas Geer is the only convicted murderer besides Price whose recent sentence reduction resulted in his immediate release from prison. Geer was convicted of murder in Anderson County in 1995, and sentenced to life in prison. He was released last September on the order of Judge Letitia Verdin after serving 27 years.

Geer was 17 at the time of the offense, which stemmed from a “drug deal gone bad,” according to the order granting his early release, and “likely would not have been prosecuted as a murder charge if the offense occurred today.”

Three of the inmates granted early release last year had their sentences cut by 10 or more years, according to SCDC data:

▪ Alberto Lopez, convicted in 2009 of assault and battery with intent to kill and two counts of kidnapping, had his 30-year sentence reduced to 18 years and was released in March 2022.

▪ Joshua Taylor, sentenced to 20 years behind bars for assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, was released last October after his sentence was effectively cut in half.

▪ And Dominique Garrison, sentenced to 20 years in prison for first-degree burglary, was released in April 2022 after being granted a 10-year sentence reduction.

Lopez, who also was represented by Rutherford, was granted a reduction after providing Department of Corrections police information that led to the arrest of a corrections officer on misconduct charges, records show. Judge Courtney Clyburn-Pope, the daughter of state Rep. William Clyburn, D-Aiken, signed off on the order.

Taylor, convicted by a Georgetown County jury in 2014, had his sentence reduced in exchange for testifying for the state in another case, records show. He was freed on the order of Judge R. Ferrell Cothran.

Garrison also was granted a sentence reduction for sharing “useful” information with the state, records show. Horry County Solicitor Jimmy Richardson presented the order seeking Garrison’s early release and 15th Circuit Judge Benjamin Culbertson signed off on it.

More than a dozen different judges have signed off on sentence reduction orders since 2022, but none more often than Manning.

Manning, who signed the order freeing Price on Dec. 30, 2022, granted six other sentence reductions that same month, his last before retiring from the bench, according to SCDC data.

In total, Manning signed off on eight sentence reductions in 2022. No other judge signed off on more than three, according to SCDC data.

The early release of S.C. inmates has caused widespread consternation in the state’s legal and law enforcement communities in recent weeks since Price’s case became public, raising questions about the role of lawyers, judges and solicitors in the largely non-public process.

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