That’s the number of signatures John Meadors turned in to the S.C. Election Commission on Monday, well more than he needed to be placed on the November ballot as a petition candidate for 5th Circuit Solicitor.
“The community support in Kershaw and Richland counties was outstanding,” Meadors said in his first official interview after turning in the signatures. “I want to thank all those volunteers who got packets and went out to get signatures. It took the hard work of a lot of people.”
Meadors said that thanks goes out to not only family and friends, new and old, but people he worked with when he served with the solicitor’s office twice -- from 1987 to 1991 as an assistant solicitor, and from 1995 to 2010 as a first assistant solicitor for Kershaw County and then deputy solicitor for both counties.
Some of the volunteers Meadors wanted to thank are victims he worked with and their families.
In between his stints at the solicitor’s office, and afterward, Meadors has worked for the S.C. Attorney General, South Carolina U.S. Attorney and 3rd Circuit Solicitor’s offices, and the law firm of McWhirter, Bellinger & Associates.
But it’s Richland and Kershaw counties that he calls home and where he spent nearly his entire 30-year career as a prosecutor.
“I’m committed to this job, I love this job. I love being part of protecting society and changing lives,” Meadors said, including some of the people he prosecutes when he thinks they deserve a second chance.
Meador’s wife, the former Tricia Rogers, is from Camden; the couple married at Lyttleton Street United Methodist Church. He has professional ties to the community as well, stretching back to the early 1990s.
As an assistant state attorney general, Meadors said he was involved in a three-week long trial involving eight defendants in a drug case.
“I tried the case in 1992. The defendants were smuggling marijuana from Jewett, Texas, to South Carolina,” Meadors remembered. “One of the main destinations was Bethune. The sheriff’s office found six 1-gallon pickle jars buried in the back yard of one of the defendant’s residences in Bethune. Each jar contained $100,000.”
While Meadors said all the trials he’s been a part of have been important, especially for victims, there is one that stands out in particular when it comes to Kershaw County. In 2004, about nine years after rejoining the solicitor’s office, he and former Solicitor Barney Giese prosecuted Lawrence Crawford in what he called one of the “most emotional” trials of his career.
Three years earlier, in late January 2001, deputies arrested a 17-year-old Cylena Crawford for allegedly beating her 11-year-old stepsister, Karresha, to death with a piece of a broom handle wrapped in electrical tape at their home in rural Elgin. Cylena also faced charges of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, after deputies found bruises on her younger brother, Quinta, who went by the simple nickname “Q.”
Days later, deputies charged Lawrence Crawford and his wife, Sylvia, with unlawful neglect. During the next several weeks, Cylena underwent psychiatric evaluation. Eventually, however, the sheriff’s office dropped the charges against her and her mother.
It was all lies. Crawford had actually murdered his own daughter.
And he had managed to convince Cylena to take the fall and the rest of the family to go along with it.
The trial began in March 2004. Meadors remembers it vividly, especially the day Crawford’s children and stepchildren testified against him in court. Especially, Quinta.
Crawford, acting as his own attorney, cross-examined his own children. Early in Quinta’s cross-examination, Crawford asked the the young boy if he could call him Q. Quinta looked up at Crawford and strongly responded, “No, sir, you may not.”
At the end of the nearly week-long trial -- after many sidebars during which then Judge Reggie Lloyd admonished Crawford for his courtroom antics -- a jury found Crawford guilty. Lloyd sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole, then turned to then Sheriff Steve McCaskill and told him to “Get this man out of my county as fast as you can.”
Crawford is serving his sentence at Lieber Correctional Institution in Dorchester County.
“It was incredible,” Meadors said, simply.
Nearly a year later, Meadors’ participated in another notable trial, but this time not in Kershaw County. In February 2005, Meadors and Giese were assigned to prosecute 15-year-old Chris Pittman for killing his grandparents in late 2001 when he was only 12. The case was touted as the “Zoloft defense” because Pittman’s attorneys claimed the anti-depressant drove him to murder his grandparents. The S.C. Attorney’s office assigned Giese and Meadors to the case after it was moved from Chester, where the murders took place, to Charleston, and other prosecutors had to step off the case for various reasons.
A jury rejected the Zoloft defense and a judge sentenced Pittman to 30 years to life in prison. However, another judge approved a post-conviction relief petition for a new trial in 2010. That December, Pittman pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, reducing his sentence to 25 years.
Meadors would not comment on the case except to say that Pittman “murdered the people who he loved the most.”
“I’ve been fortunate in my career to be a part of all these cases; it’s been very rewarding,” Meadors said. “I enjoy working with victims and law enforcement, and even people I believe have made mistakes and, when appropriate, giving them a second chance. I hope to continue doing that as the solicitor. What’s important is that I believe a career prosecutor is needed for this job and I’m ready to go.”
Even with the 13,451 signatures, Meadors isn’t on the ballot quite yet.
“We need to turn the petitions in to both county election commissions and have them certify them by matching signatures with voter registration numbers. By law, they have to do that by August 15,” Meadors said.
He said his team pre-certified more than the 10,000 necessary signatures and hopes both the Richland and Kershaw County election commissions will be able to certify most, if not all, of the signatures he received.
Meadors said if that happens, he will appear on the ballot as an independent, petition candidate against Democrat Byron Gipson.
Meadors earned a bachelor’s degree in government in 1983 from Wofford College where he was student body president, and his law degree from the University Of South Carolina’s School of Law in 1987. He has been a member of the Camden Rotary Club for 22 years and just became its president-elect under new President Donnie Wilson. Meadors is a former member of both the Kershaw County Board of Disabilities and Special Needs and the State Child Fatality Review Board. In 1989, he was named the state of Maryland’s Victim/Witness Assistant of the Year for a case involving a man from Baltimore, Md., killed in Columbia. Meadors also earned the Ernest F. Hollings Award for Excellence in State Court Prosecution in 2005.