A Salters man convicted of murdering a 24-year-old Myrtle Beach man in 2007 will get a new trial after the S.C. Court of Appeals reversed his conviction, according to an opinion released Wednesday.
Richard Niles was convicted following a trial in March 2009 in which a jury spent six hours deliberating before they found him guilty of murder, armed robbery and use of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime in the killing of 24-year-old James Salter.
Niles was ordered to serve 30 years in prison without parole on the murder and robbery charges and a lesser penalty for the weapon charge. Niles’ girlfriend at the time of the slaying, Mokeia Hammond, was found not guilty of murder and the weapon charge, but was found guilty of armed robbery during the trial.
Hammond was sentenced to 15 years in prison and also was not eligible for parole.
The state Court of Appeals justices heard arguments in Niles’ case on Feb. 14 and issued their opinion Wednesday to reverse the Circuit Court ruling.
Niles appeal argued that Circuit Court Judge Benjamin Culbertson erred in not giving the jurythe option of a voluntary manslaughter charge “because there was evidence that Niles was not the first aggressor” and that Culbertson incorrectly reasoned that Niles “was either acting in self-defense or shot the decedent during the commission of an armed robbery,” according to the opinion.
In the opinion the Court of Appeals justices wrote: “Furthermore, the error of the circuit court in failing to charge the jury with voluntary manslaughter prejudiced Niles. ‘The [circuit] court commits reversible error if it fails to give a requested charge on an issue raised by the evidence.’”
Attorneys in the case could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
During the trial, prosecutors described Niles and Hammond as being on a Bonnie and Clyde trip when Salter was shot and killed in the parking lot of Best Buy in Myrtle Beach during a drug transaction.
Prosecutors argued that Niles shot Salter during the robbery in the store’s parking lot, where Salter intended to make a drug transaction.
A third person, Ervin Moore, testified against Niles after he reached a deal and pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and armed robbery. Moore was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
But lawyers defending Niles said during the trial that the mastermind behind the crime was Moore, who was riding with the couple at the time of the killing.
Prosecutors said Niles planned to rob Salter of marijuana during their parking lot meeting on April 9, 2007, but Salter had a gun and the two exchanged gunfire. Hammond was waiting nearby in a Ford Fusion as the robbery went bad.
Salter was an Army veteran and National Guardsman who attended Coastal Carolina University and was the son of a S.C. state trooper.
Contact TONYA ROOT at 444-1723.