After deliberating for five hours, jurors in the case of a 2016 home invasion still could not make a decision on whether 20-year-old Franklin Vereen Price and 19-year-old Sean Page, Jr. were guilty of the crime.
Judge Steven John declared a mistrial after he was told that a juror had expressed their previous experience being the victim of a similar crime. After individually interviewing all the jurors, at least one expressed that their view had been changed by the other juror’s statement, and more than one other expressed that the personal detail seemed to be used as a way to change other jurors’ minds.
“While obviously this is not the favored result,” Judge John said. “We want the matters to come to a conclusion … but we cannot do that if it calls into question the manner in which we arrive at the end result. I think it has at least called into question the process and I cannot then stand and let that go.”
John said both men will be rescheduled for a new trial at a future date. According to his lawyer Kia Wilson, Price has not made bond at this point, so he will continue to be incarcerated until that happens. Page will be held until paperwork comes from his bondsman.
Defense lawyers Kia Wilson and Ralph Wilson both tried to move for a mistrial earlier in the case due to many reasons, including what they say was incorrect procedure for the victims to identify suspects in a lineup, when husband and wife victims were allowed to identify at the same time.
A fast-thinking theatrical move by a Kingston Lake Drive resident may have spared his family more trauma than they might have suffered in July of 2016 and been responsible for at least one of the intruders being sent to jail.
Jimmy Brown testified Thursday that he had come in from choir practice planning to watch an HBO program with his wife June; daughter, Catherine Hewitt; and her husband, Blake Hewitt. But only moments after settling in, his wife heard a noise and wondered what it was.
“…and like usual I said ‘nothing,’ ” he said.
But when she heard it again and her daughter also heard it, the two ladies went to investigate.
At that point, Brown said, he heard one of them say, “O my God. What do you want?”
During their investigations, they found four men with guns, wearing hoodies inside of their home.
Brown said the men brandished their guns as they went through the house looking for money and other valuables.
He said they took their cell phones and the receivers from their landlines and ran them under water so they couldn’t call for help. His wife gave them her keys and a wallet.
“When they found out we didn’t have much money at all, I guess they just kept looking for other things,” Brown said.
When they found a debit card that belonged to his wife, they wanted her to go with them to an ATM to get money, but Brown said she couldn’t go, he’d go instead.
That’s when Blake Hewitt spoke up declaring that no one was going with them. Mrs. Brown gave the men her PIN and two of them got into Brown’s car and headed to an ATM. As they left, they vowed to come back and shoot them if the PIN didn’t work.
Two men stayed behind still spewing threats, still just looking around and still playing with their guns, Brown said.
That’s when Brown had a brainstorm.
“I had no idea what a heart attack looked like, but I started faking one,” he said.
When that didn’t work, he pretended to go into some kind of seizure.
Blake Hewitt then said to the two men, “You need to leave; we need to call 911.”
Brown said he grabbed his chest, leaned over as if he were in a lot of pain before leaning back and starting to jerk.
The duo left then, but he could still see them outside.
Brown remembered the situation in detail, but testified Thursday that he couldn’t identify the men; however, both of the Hewitts were unshakeable in their identifications of Sean L. Page and Vereen-Price, who were both on trial for armed robbery, first-degree burglary and kidnapping. Both of them were able, one week later, to pick all four of the suspects out of a police lineup.
Catherine Hewitt said one of the men, who seemed to be in charge, was shorter than the others and barking orders.
She wasn’t sure if the men were inside the house for about 30 minutes or 40 minutes, but she testified, “It seemed like an eternity.”
She said her dad, who had suffered some minor heart problems previously, didn’t look well and she became concerned, but one of the defendants said, “O, he’s fine. Nothing’s wrong with the old man.”
That’s when he started to convulse as if he was having a seizure.
Blake Hewitt then told the men they had to go because Brown was dying and they needed to call 911.
After the men left, Catherine Hewitt went to call 911, but her dad said to her, “I’m 100 percent fine.”
Because they knew the men were still outside, she told him to lie on the sofa and act like he was dying.
Vereen-Price’s attorney Kia Wilson questioned Catherine Hewitt about how she could be sure who the men were with their hoodies pulled around their faces, one wearing a surgical mask and another wearing a bandana, but she insisted that she was 100 percent confident.
Wilson also questioned Mrs. Hewitt’s description of Page as being about 5-feet, 8-inches tall and shorter than the other men when he appeared to be about the same height as Vereen-Price in the courtroom.
Blake Hewitt said Page, who was 16-years-old at the time of the crime, had indeed grown some and gained some weight over the past three years, but he testified he was confident police had arrested the right men.
When he was reminded that the incident happened three years ago and memories can fade in that amount of time, Hewitt answered, “As much as I have tried to forget everything about that night, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.”
He added that he has had a lot of interaction with guns, but had never before had one pointed at him like that.
He said he remembers it now just like he did then and has every day since then.
Brown’s car that the men took to go to the ATM was recovered later that night. Police also were able to recover a milk jug that Brown testified came from an Aynor farm when he was a kid, and three Mason jars, one holding pennies, another nickels and another dimes.
Prior to the trial
Raheem Green, 22, was sentenced to 20 years in jail after he recanted his earlier guilty plea that included a promise to cooperate with the State and testify in the trial. He then pleaded to armed robbery, but with no agreement to help.
Pagrein Harrell, then followed him pleading guilty to second-degree burglary violent, but Circuit Judge Steven H. John withheld his sentence of Harrell until after his testimony in the trial of Page and Vereen-Price. However, the State didn’t call him as a witness so he offered no testimony.
During the guilty plea, Mr. Hewitt, an attorney who was recently elected to a judgeship on the S.C. Court of Appeals, told the judge that the crime was a harrowing experience for him, his wife, mother-in-law and father-in-law.
His daughter, 2-years-old at the time, was asleep during the crime for which Hewitt says he’s exceedingly thankful because she has no memory of the incident.
He said he’s never been more terrified in his life than he was that night.
In a most unusual move in the case, the lawyer representing one of the remaining defendants asked the judge Tuesday morning to query the duo to make sure they understood the gravity of the situation they were facing and the severity of the penalty they could receive.
Conway attorney and former solicitor Ralph Wilson told Judge John that his client, Page, had ignored every phone call and request for a meeting that he had made, and he hadn’t met the young man until Monday when he was summoned for trial.
He said, in a first for him, he actually had to hire someone to go to Page’s home to deliver documents he needed to see.
Page and his co-defendant, Vereen-Price, both indicated to the Judge that they didn’t want to plead guilty and they understood the instructions that the Judge had given them.
Wilson said the evidence against the two young men was overwhelming and that it was unlikely that a jury would find them not guilty. He said his major concern was the youth of the defendants.
He said at one point the State offered the men jail terms of 15 years each, but if they were found guilty they would receive much tougher sentences. The State had by then withdrawn all offers for lesser penalties in return for their guilty pleas.
“I can’t seem to get through to them,” Ralph Wilson said. “I don’t know what I’m not doing correctly, but I’m trying.”
Judge John then explained to the duo that they were facing two, 30-year sentences and one life without parole, if they were found guilty.
The first-degree burglary charge is the one that carries a life without parole sentence.
Judge John told the duo that if they were found guilty of the burglary charge, they would die in jail.
He also explained that the charges against the men are classified as violent, most serious. The violent rating means that whatever sentence they got, they’d have to serve at least 85 percent before they could be released on parole.
The “most serious” classification counts as one of two strikes that a defendant can have before facing life without parole, and the Judge said, they’d already be past that if they were found guilty of the armed robbery and kidnapping charges in this case.
He made it clear that they had the right to a trial and that they’d get one if they made that decision.
He also explained that they had the ability to plead guilty if they chose to, and that meant that the Judge would have the discretion of sentencing them to the lower range of prison time for each offense they pleaded to.
Page, who was a juvenile at the time, was charged as an adult.
Conway police say an investigation into this incident developed other leads that linked to other burglaries, automobile break-ins and automobile thefts.
Prosecutor Mary-Ellen Walter said a search of the home at 1404 Racepath Ave., where several of the defendants lived, turned up lots of evidence against them, some of it from other break-ins around town. Those items were returned to their owners.
For further trial details, see our previous story here: https://www.myhorrynews.com/news/update-two-plead-guilty-in-kingston-lake-drive-burglary-and/article_f79afaba-a7ed-11e9-a107-bfe7c04cc82d.html
Reporter Katie Powell contributed to this report.