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Jury finds Pickrell guilty of murdering boyfriend

Will spend next 35 years in prison, defense plans appeal

Posted: June 7, 2018 4:13 p.m.
Updated: June 8, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Provided by the KCDc/

Gregg Pickrell

Unless her case is overturned on appeal, Gregg Pickrell will be 100 years old when she finishes serving her 35-year sentence for fatally shooting 33-year-old Robert L. Demary, of Salmond Street, Camden, nearly four years ago. A jury found Pickrell guilty of murder mid-afternoon Tuesday, closing a trial that had lasted six days over a two-week period.

According to a Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) report dated Sept. 11, 2014, Pickrell -- now 65 and who lived on Baynard Boykin Road near Rembert at the time -- called Sumter County dispatchers who then relayed the call to Kershaw County. A KCSO press release indicated Demary had been shot once in the upper body and pronounced dead at the scene. The coroner at the time, Johnny Fellers, told the Chronicle-Independent that Demary bled to death from a laceration to his heart, lung and aorta due to a gunshot wound.

After conferring with the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, deputies arrested Pickrell the following day, Sept. 12, 2014.

At a bond hearing held nearly three weeks later, in early October 2014, Assistant 5th Circuit Solicitor Curtis Pauling -- who served as one of three solicitors at trial -- alleged Pickrell had shot an unarmed Demary in the back. During that bond hearing, Pauling also revealed that Demary had spent the night at Pickrell’s home and that they had been in some type of relationship that had transitioned from employer/employee to sexual.

A judge ultimately set a $100,000 bond.

John Delgado, one of Pickrell’s attorneys, claimed during that same October 2014 bond hearing that the six-year-long relationship was abusive on Demary’s part. Delgaldo, along with Pickrell’s co-councils, also claimed at the bond hearing that she had two cell phones and a digital audio recording with photos and sounds of that abuse.

The same arguments played out during the trial that ended Tuesday: the defense claiming self-defense based on Demary’s alleged abuse; solicitors arguing that Pickrell shot Demary in the back despite a claim that Demary had been lunging at her. Ultimately, the trial ended with the jury’s guilty verdict and Judge William A. McKinnon’s 35-year-sentence.

The seven-woman, five-man jury began deliberations around 10:10 a.m. Tuesday following Judge McKinnon’s charges to the jury. During those charges, he noted that Pickrell did not testify in her own defense -- and then made it very clear jurors must not consider that fact in their deliberations. In fact, McKinnon told them, her decision not to testify must not even be discussed in the jury room.

While she did not testify on her own behalf, her attorneys -- Delgado and co-counsel Aimee Zmroczek -- further argued that Pickrell’s actions grew out of Demary’s alleged abuse. As part of his instructions to the jury, McKinnon charged them with considering three elements of self-defense that make a person justified in using deadly force:

• She was without fault in bringing on the difficulty (in other words, she did not provoke the incident leading to the deadly force).

• She was, or believed she was, in imminent danger of death or serious injury. If she believed she was in imminent danger, that belief was not unreasonable; if actually in danger, that the circumstances warranted deadly force.

• She had no other probable means of avoiding death or serious bodily injury without acting as she did.

“The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she did not act in self-defense,” McKinnon told the jury.

After going over a few more instructions, McKinnon dismissed the jury, but they were unable to deliberate immediately due to a hold up on a particular document that had been introduced as evidence. A portion of the document had been highlighted -- something solicitors had previously objected to -- and it took about 15 minutes to provide a solution.

About 20 minutes after that, the jury forwarded a question to McKinnon about whether or not a particular action could be considered criminal. After conferring with attorneys on both sides, McKinnon brought the jurors back in and told them they could only deliberate on the murder charge and that he was not willing to discuss any other criminal acts with them.

Three hours later, the jury asked for a written copy of the judge’s instructions, which were sent back to the jury room a short time later.

Finally, at 2:40 p.m., the jury handed down its verdict to Clerk of Court Janet Hasty, who read, “Guilty.”

Delgado and Zmroczek asked that the jury be polled, which Hasty did, by name, with each juror affirming that they had voted guilty and that guilty was the verdict of the entire jury.

After thanking the jury for their service and dismissing them, McKinnon called for a 15-minute recess so both sides could prepare any impact statements they wished to make. One of Demary’s aunts made a statement on behalf of his family, saying they had lost “a son, nephew, father, brother and uncle” and that Demary’s daughter had lost Christmases with her father “she can never get back.”

Pauling noted that Pickrell could have received a sentence of any time between 30 years to life, but expressed no position on the sentencing, leaving it to McKinnon’s discretion.

Pickrell, for her part, said she was “very, very sorry” before breaking into sobs.

McKinnon recessed again for a short time to consider his sentence. When he returned, Zmroczek asked him for a finding in favor of parole under a domestic abuse-related self-defense statute. Pauling objected because Pickrell and Demary never co-habitated nor had any children together. McKinnon denied Zmroczek’s request and sentenced Pickrell to the 35 years in prison without the possibility of parole.

Deputies allowed Pickrell to hug her elderly mother for several minutes before leading her out of the courtroom and to be transported to the Kershaw County Detention where she awaits transfer to the S.C. Department of Corrections.

During a brief interview following adjournment, Pauling said due to being convicted of murder, Pickrell would have to serve the 35-year sentence day for day.

Also during a brief interview, Zmroczek said she and Delgado plan to appeal Pickrell’s case with the claim of self-defense due to Demary’s alleged abuse.

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