The lawyer for an Horry County man charged in a 19-year-old murder argued Friday that her client’s case should be dismissed because police and prosecutors engaged in misconduct that included destroying video of another man admitting to the crime.
“Justice demands it,” attorney Amy Lawrence said in an Horry County courtroom, adding her client’s constitutional rights have been violated.
Gary Wayne Bennett, who has been incarcerated for nearly 20 years, maintains he did not kill Eva Marie Martin in 2000.
Much of what was discussed during Friday’s hearing is detailed in a motion that Lawrence filed in September that accuses Horry County police and the 15th Circuit Solicitor’s Office of “gross misconduct.”
Essentially, she argued in court, the state engaged in a coverup, therefore concealing exculpatory evidence, in order to hide wrongdoing by the county police department.
Lawrence 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.
Lawrence took Bennett’s case pro bono in 2017. Since then, she has raised concerns about how the state handled its evidence against him.
Martin, the victim in the homicide, was killed in her home on May 23, 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 said Lindsay gave multiple conflicting statements to police, several of which are recorded.
In response, assistant solicitor Mary-Ellen Walter noted that the investigation did not reveal any DNA evidence linking Lindsay, who confessed to his involvement in the crime, either.
Prosecutors allege the killing 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.
“There was nothing that tied Gary Bennett to this crime,” Lawrence said, “except for the word of Andrew Lindsay.”
In 1990, Lindsay was convicted of murdering a woman in Illinois, but that information was not presented at Bennett’s trial.
Bennett maintained his innocence, but 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 (PCR) to secure a new trial. In his pursuit of PCR, Bennett said his trial attorney Johnny Gardner, who is now the Horry County Council chairman, had been ineffective.
In 2014, Judge Benjamin Culbertson granted Bennett post conviction relief.
Since then, Bennett, 56, has been awaiting a new trial.
The motion Lawrence filed and her statements during Friday’s proceedings hone 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.
“While in the interrogation room, Lindsay confessed to the murder of Eva Marie Martin,” Lawrence’s motion stated. “Specifically, Lindsay confessed to McDermott that he raped the victim and slit the victim’s throat.”
During the same meeting in the interrogation room, Lindsay and McDermott had sex, the motion stated.
After recording the “confession sex tape,” police then coached Lindsay on the details of the crime and he gave a “manufactured statement” before recanting it three days later, Lawrence said.
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 the motion.
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 passed away, didn’t turn them into the evidence department until Aug. 10, 2000 — 17 days after taking custody of the footage.
Lawrence added the records also 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 last year, 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 stated. “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 contends Bennett’s indictments should be dismissed because he cannot receive a fair trial without the Lindsay video.
On the same day Lawrence filed her motion, Horry County attorney Arrigo Carotti also filed a motion to quash her subpoenas for police records in the Bennett case.
Lawrence asked for the internal affairs files of five HCPD officers, according to the subpoena. The attorney wanted the records for Bill Knowles, Todd Cox, Merritt, Robert Maxwell and Tina Vaught McKenzie.
In his motion, Carotti wrote that Lawrence is seeking information that is protected from disclosure.
Walter, the prosecutor, 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 that Lawrence disputes.
Walter and Judge Robert Hood both said there is no evidence that shows a tape was destroyed.
Walter said it could just as easily have been lost. She added McDermott gave conflicting statements and cannot be viewed as a credible witness.
Walter also questioned why the police would destroy video of a confession that would help solve the case.
She said the state has given the defense all the discovery it has, and that the discovery and the investigation points to the verdict a jury reached — that Bennett robbed and killed Martin.
Following the hearing, Lawrence expressed optimism.
“We’re hopeful that the judge is going to go back and reflect on everything, look at the record and read the law and come back with an order in our favor,” she told reporters.
During the proceedings, her client was served with additional indictments. In addition to murder and armed robbery, Bennett now also faces charges of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and first-degree burglary.
Lawrence said she wasn’t surprised at the additional counts being levied.
“I’d always thought that when we called out all the misdoings at the Horry County Police Department and the coverup of what they’ve done that there would be a price to pay,” she said. “We had anticipated that this could happen, that they would try to pile on charges as punishment.”
Lawrence said that following the hearing she and Bennett wept together.
For now, both sides await the judge’s order. Hood said he would issue his ruling via a written decision.
If the charges aren’t dismissed, Lawrence said she is confident heading into a new trial, echoing her comments about Lindsay’s alleged conflicting statements.
“Twelve jurors from Horry County are not going to be OK with what happened to Gary Bennett. They’re just not,” she said. “And they’ll see exactly what this is.”
Walter declined to comment after the hearing.