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Bethune man sentenced to life for 2013 murder, robbery

Posted: August 28, 2014 6:22 p.m.
Updated: August 29, 2014 6:00 a.m.
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Willie Thomas Starnes

 

A Bethune man will spend the rest of his life in prison after being convicted of murder and armed robbery Thursday.

A jury of six men and six women found Willie Thomas Starnes, 33, guilty in the trial that started Monday. The charges came from an incident that occurred Aug. 24, 2013, when Starnes, who admitted being under the influence of alcohol and drugs at the time, struck and killed Alan Thomas Robinson, who was 67 at the time, with Starnes’ 1999 Chevrolet Tahoe SUV.

Robinson was riding what family members described as “his prized possession,” a scooter, on Freeman Road in rural Bethune, near his Camp Road home. Starnes stole the scooter and took it to Kershaw in Lancaster County, where he sold it for $100, according to testimony from witness LaKendrick Miller, who bought the scooter from Starnes. Jerry Crawford, Miller’s uncle, testified he gave Miller the $100 to purchase the stolen scooter.

Robinson’s nephew, Lloyd Pate, and his wife, Martha, found him gravely injured along Freeman Road. They testified Robinson told them he had been knocked off the scooter, it was stolen and loaded into the SUV. They testified that Robinson said it went further down Freeman Road, turned around at Camp Road, came back and ran over him as he lay beside the road.

Starnes’ attorney, public defender Jason Kirincich claimed Robinson’s statements, as related by the Pates, were hearsay, but Judge DeAndrea Benjamin allowed the testimony under a legal term called “dying declaration,” under which the victim is mortally injured and heavily affected by the trauma they have just undergone.

Deputy Solicitor Brett Perry said in his opening statement Tuesday that Starnes struck Robinson for the express purpose of stealing the scooter to sell for drug money and ran over Robinson to eliminate the only witness. In addition to murder, prosecutors were also seeking an armed robbery conviction, saying Starnes’ SUV was used as a weapon.

“Alan Robinson is not here because Willie Starnes wanted to get high,” Perry told the jury.

Kirincich admitted Starnes hit Robinson’s scooter that day and took it in a panic because he wanted to cover up the accident since he was driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs. However, he said law enforcement geared the investigation toward the result they wanted, which was to prove Starnes hit Robinson intentionally to steal the scooter, then ran over Robinson.

Members of the S.C. Highway Patrol (SCHP) and the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) involved in the investigation also took the stand.

Dr. Amy Durson, the forensic pathologist who performed an autopsy on Robinson testified Wednesday that the injuries to Robinson’s internal organs indicated he had been under “a crushing force.” She said the cause of death was ruled blunt force trauma and the manner of death was determined to be homicide.

The jury viewed an interview of Starnes conducted at KCSO headquarters by Investigator Rick Bailey, Chief Deputy Marvin Brown and SCHP First Sgt. Tom Borowski. The video lasted approximately 90 minutes and showed Starnes changing his story throughout.

Bailey served as the prosecution’s final witness before concluding its portion of the case. Kirincich argued the solicitor’s had not provided sufficient evidence and asked for a dismissal, which Benjamin denied.

During closing arguments Thursday morning, the main argument of the case came down to whether or not Starnes’ inflicting the fatal injuries on Robinson was intentional or accidental. Deputy Solicitor Curtis Pauling spoke for the state and said the case came down to decisions.

“Mr. Robinson is dead because Willie Starnes -- he made the decision to run him over, to take his moped and leave him to die like a dog in the street,” Pauling told the jury.

Kirincich said that although what Starnes did was wrong, it was not an intentional act of murder.

“We’re not saying because he was drunk and he was high that it was OK to be doing what he was doing out there. No, not at all. We’re saying he never formed the intent to rob Mr. Robinson. Never formed the intent to kill Mr. Robinson,” Kirincich said.

The jury received the case at noon Thursday and took less than two hours to deliver the guilty verdicts. Prosecutors had already given Starnes and his attorney notice that they were seeking a life sentence without parole; Benjamin approved that sentence immediately after Starnes’ conviction.

Following the trial, Robinson’s niece, Cynthia Moore, said the entire ordeal was difficult, but she felt justice had been done.

“I’m very satisfied with the verdict. He (Starnes) got what he deserves. I feel for his family. They’re going through this just as much as we are,” Moore said. “He (Robinson) never married and never had any children, so I’m the closest he got to a kid.”

 

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