A circuit court judge declined to dismiss indictments against a man charged in an Horry County murder that happened nearly two decades ago, according to court records.
Judge Robert Hood signed his order earlier this month in the case of Gary Wayne Bennett.
The 56-year-old Bennett maintains he did not kill Eva Marie Martin in 2000. He faces charges including murder and armed robbery.
During a hearing last month, Bennett's attorney Amy Lawrence argued his case should be dismissed. She accused Horry County police and the 15th Circuit Solicitor’s Office of misconduct, including destroying video of another man admitting to the crime. The state engaged in a coverup, she said, in order to hide wrongdoing by the county police.
Much of what was discussed during the proceedings was detailed in a motion she filed in September.
Hood's order does not state why the judge declined to dismiss the indictments.
"The Court has thoroughly reviewed the Defendant's Motion and the State's Response, any memoranda and filings, heard oral argument, and researched the applicable law," the ruling said. "For the reasons set forth herein, the Court hereby DENIES the Defendant's motions."
The homicide victim, Martin, was killed in her home in May of 2000. She was found with her throat slit and her pants pulled down. Initially, police charged Bennett and a man named Andrew Lindsay with the murder.
Lawrence took Bennett’s case in 2017 and has raised concerns about how the state handled its evidence against him.
She has noted that state officials challenged her request for the testing of DNA evidence for more than a year. The test results ultimately showed Bennett’s DNA was not present on any items of evidence.
In response, assistant solicitor Mary-Ellen Walter noted during last month’s hearing that the same was true for Lindsay.
Lawrence has argued Lindsay gave multiple conflicting statements to police, several of which are recorded.
Prosecutors allege the murder stemmed from a plot concocted by Bennett and Lindsay to rob a Taco Bell. The two wanted to get keys to the restaurant and a combination to its safe, the state contends.
Prosecutors used Lindsay’s testimony against Bennett. Lindsay received a plea deal that allowed him to admit to being an accessory after the fact, according to court records. Lindsay testified that he and Bennett were at Martin’s home when he overheard him killing her while he was in another room.
The prosecution's case hinged on Lindsay's testimony.
In 1990, Lindsay was convicted of murdering a woman in Illinois, but that information was not presented at Bennett’s trial.
Although Bennett has maintained his innocence, he was convicted of murder and armed robbery on Aug. 14, 2002. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Bennett’s conviction was upheld by the appeals court, so he sought post-conviction relief to secure a new trial.
Bennett was successful in 2014 and since then he has awaited a new trial.
Lawrence’s statements in court and her motion have honed in on how the police treated Lindsay.
On July 24, 2000, police allowed Lindsay to meet with his then-wife Tera McDermott in a police interrogation room.
McDermott was the goddaughter of an Horry County police captain and the daughter of a Myrtle Beach police officer, according to court records.
Lawrence’s motion said that in the interrogation room Lindsay confessed to raping Martin and slitting her throat. During the same meeting in the interrogation room, Lindsay and McDermott had sex, the motion stated.
After recording what the defense has called a “confession sex tape,” Lawrence said police coached Lindsay on the details of the crime and he gave a “manufactured statement” before recanting it three days later.
Paul Partin, an Horry County police officer at the time, made two video recordings: one of Lindsay and McDermott alone and another of investigators interviewing Lindsay.
But Bennett did not know about the recorded evidence of Lindsay and McDermott until after his new trial was granted, according to court records.
When Lawrence requested the recordings, they had been edited, were of poor quality and did not show the meeting between McDermott and Lindsay. Lawrence then asked to see the original tapes in person, but those tapes also didn’t show McDermott and Lindsay alone.
Partin has said the released recordings do not depict what he recorded and are not the original tapes. The defense believes one of the original tapes was destroyed and the remaining footage was altered and split into two parts.
Records show that Partin handed tapes over to George Merritt, then a detective for the HCPD.
Merritt, who has since died, didn’t turn them into the evidence department until Aug. 10, 2000 — 17 days after taking custody of the footage.
Lawrence previously said the records don’t show the videos ever being removed from evidence, but do indicate they were returned to evidence in March 2002 just months before Bennett’s trial.
During a hearing in 2018, an assistant solicitor told the court she had spoken with everyone involved with the Lindsay interview and there was no recording of Lindsay and McDermott alone. However, the prosecutor did acknowledge a written reprimand that a detective received for recording Lindsay and McDermott having sex.
“The incident was recorded and preserved on video without audio emission,” the reprimand from 2000 stated. The document was signed by Guy Osborne, the HCPD captain who was McDermott’s godfather.
“The Horry County Police Department destroyed the videotape in bad faith and the State withheld exculpatory evidence from Defendant when Defendant’s charges were pending, during his trial, during his appeal and during his PCR proceedings,” Lawrence’s motion said. “Despite continuously being confronted with evidence regarding the existence and contents of this videotape, the Assistant Solicitor and the Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor’s Office have engaged in willful blindness and misled Defendant’s Counsel and the Court in a blatant effort to conceal the existence of Andrew Lindsay’s confession and the extent of the State’s misconduct in this case.”
Lawrence argued her client’s indictments should be dropped because he cannot receive a fair trial without the Lindsay video.
Walter has said the written reprimand is the only thing that points to the existence of a recording showing Lindsay and McDermott having sex. She also highlighted the fact it states the video does not have sound — a point which Lawrence has disputed.
Walter and Hood both said in December that there is no evidence that shows a tape was destroyed.
Walter stated McDermott gave conflicting statements and cannot be viewed as a credible witness, questioning why the police would destroy video of a confession that would help solve the case.
The judge noted that Lawrence can ask witnesses about a confession during cross examination at Bennett's new trial.
Regarding Hood's ruling, 15th Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said he agreed with the judge.
“Obviously we thought that should be the decision," he said. "We are certainly pleased with it. ... We look forward to moving on now and trying the case on the evidence [and] not on allegations."
Lawrence said she wanted to read the judge's order before commenting on it.
Following the Dec. 13 hearing, she said she was confident heading into a new trial if the charges weren’t dropped.
“Twelve jurors from Horry County are not going to be OK with what happened to Gary Bennett. They’re just not,” she said at the time. “And they’ll see exactly what this is.”