Two men charged in the stabbing death of a Carolina Forest High School graduate are now scheduled to reappear in court in December, according to the Horry County solicitor’s office.
Meantime, court documents obtained by the Carolina Forest Chronicle suggest the stabbing death of David Jon Houghtaling at The Afterdeck nightclub in 2009 may have been gang-related.
Houghtaling, 19, was stabbed to death Sept. 8, 2009, while he and a group of friends were at The Afterdeck, a nightclub located in the Restaurant Row section near Myrtle Beach, police and Circuit Court records state. David Houghtaling was a 2008 graduate of Carolina Forest High School.
Blakely Kalen Brown, 27, of Columbia and Joshua Griffith, 23, of Greenville, have been charged with murder in connection with the stabbing death.
Both suspects have also been charged with two counts of assault and battery with intent to kill, according to police records.
The trial, initially scheduled to begin in September, was continued to Nov. 11. Now the trial is tentatively planned to begin Dec. 9, according to the 15th Judicial Circuit’s office.
Brown is currently jailed at J. Reuben Long Detention Center on unrelated charges. Griffith remains free on $50,000 bond. He’s currently serving probation for an unrelated charge in Greenville County, according to police records.
Brown’s defense attorney Stuart Axelrod said Monday he anticipates being ready for the Dec. 9 trial, but declined to discuss anything else regarding the case.
“Ethically speaking, I can’t comment on an ongoing criminal case,” Axelrod said. “When the case is over, I’d be more than happy to talk with you about it.”
Alex Hyman, who’s representing Griffith, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Attorneys file motions
On Sept. 25, Axelrod filed a motion for a “date certain” trial, according to a court filing.
Date certain trials typically refer to specially set trials in which the judge sets aside time for that case and no others, resulting in fixed dates for the trial.
In his motion, Axelrod said he needed a date certain trial to allow sufficient time to contact and, if necessary, subpoena witnesses.
“The basis for this motion is that this is a complex case of murder and attempted murder wherein there are two co-defendants, three victims and countless witnesses as this involves an alleged stabbing having taken place in a night club,” Axelrod’s filing states.
“This case further involves and/or is anticipated to involve the use of multiple expert witnesses on behalf of the both [sic] the state and each of the two defendants,” the filing continues.
In a response to Axelrod’s motion, Livesay said the state preferred to establish a date certain trial of Nov. 11.
“While waiting for a signed order by Judge [Larry] Hyman, the state received a motion for date certain trial on September 25, 2013 that is now scheduled to be heard by the Honorable Judge [Steven] John,” Livesay’s filing from Oct. 11 states.
“The undersigned believes that this motion is for a date later than the previously agreed-upon date of November 11, 2013,” the filing continues.
At an arraignment hearing in June, Brown rejected a plea offer from the state, according to the Oct. 11 filing.
On Oct. 9, Axelrod emailed the solicitor’s office a request for Brown to plead guilty to accessory after the fact of murder, the filing continued.
The lesser charge would’ve carried a maximum prison sentence of seven years, as opposed to 30 years to life for murder, but the offer was rejected, the filing said.
In the upcoming murder trial, the solicitor’s office plans to introduce evidence about Brown’s gang affiliations, according to court filings.
On Sept. 3, Livesay filed a motion to admit evidence to include expert testimony.
“It is essential and necessary to admit the gang evidence in order for the state to prove its case for murder,” the filing states. “Gang evidence is highly probative in explaining what takes place at the time of the crime, because it gives insight into the conduct of defendants and their intent.”
No ruling on the motion had been made as of press time.
According to documents included in the motion, a special agent with the State Law Enforcement Division said the murder may have been gang-related.
SLED special Agent Nicole Bryan said in a four-page report that Griffith admitted Brown had been trying to get him to join a gang.
According to the report, the attack at The Afterdeck may have been part of a gang initiation ritual.
“The timeline of events as outlined in the case and the description of events as described by victims and witnesses are indicative of a gang initiation for [Joshua] Griffith to become a member of the gang by committing an act of violence in the presence of Blakely Brown,” the SLED report states.
Agent Bryan states in her report that one method of joining a gang is to commit an act of violence in the presence of a gang member.
Bryan’s report states Brown is a member of the Insane Gangster Desciples, which falls under the umbrella of the Folk Nation, an alliance of street gangs formed in Chicago, Ill.
Brown meets three of the state’s criteria for being a gang member, according to the SLED report.
In addition to Griffith’s statements, Brown’s gang affiliations were identified through his Facebook communications and hand signals he used, the report said.
Brown also has several tattoos denoting gang affiliation, including those of teardrops.
One teardrop tattoo is filled in, indicating having killed someone and another isn’t filled in, meaning attempted murder or death of a loved one, according to the SLED report.
Since The Afterdeck attacks in 2009, the suspects have been charged with 15 different and unrelated counts, according to police records.
Blakely Brown has been charged nine separate times since Houghtaling’s death.
He was charged as recently as Aug. 3 with financial transaction card theft and financial transaction card fraud, value $500 or less in a six-month period, SLED records show.
Brown’s bond has been set at $17,500 and he remained behind bars as of press time.
According to a Myrtle Beach police report, the suspect and another man used a stolen Bank of America card to make purchases at Target, TJ Maxx and Coastal Grand Mall. They bought a TV, jewelry and other merchandise with the stolen card, the report said.
Myrtle Beach police also charged Brown with shoplifting, unlawful carrying of a weapon and resisting arrest in connection with an incident that occurred May 10 at Belk at Coastal Grand Mall, a police report said.
Since murder charges were filed, Brown has been charged on seven other occasions in Richland, Greenville, Georgetown and Horry counties on a variety of drug, alcohol and theft counts, according to SLED records.
Griffith has been charged six times since the 2009 murder, SLED records show.
Most recently, he was sentenced to a year in prison, suspended to a year of probation, after he was convicted May 8 of failure to stop for a blue light.
In March 2010, the Travelers Rest Police Department in Greenville County charged Griffith with minor/purchase or possess alcoholic liquors, possession of controlled substance, Schedule I to V and interference/hindering police officers.
He was convicted and sentenced to 30 days or pay a $1,093 fine, according to SLED records.
Griffith was found not guilty of assault and battery, third degree, in January 2013. His record before 2009 includes numerous alcohol, drug and driving offenses, SLED documents show.
In a prior interview, Livesay with the solicitor’s office said prosecutors didn’t move to have bond revoked due to the closeness of the trial.
“Normally what we do is we’ll make a motion to revoke the bond,” Livesay said. “We haven’t done that because the case is imminent.”
Court records do not specifically state that bond can be revoked if either defendant is charged with a crime.
Brown was ordered to have no contact with any of the victims’ families.
In addition to remaining in South Carolina, conditions of Griffith’s release required him to be placed on electronic GPS monitoring and ordered to have no contact with any of the victims or family members of the victim.
He was also prohibited from having no unexcused absences from school.