Horry County prosecutors not considering death penalty in Heather Elvis’ murder

akelley@thesunnews.comMarch 19, 2014 

  • Aggravating factors for capital punishment in South Carolina

    •  A capital offense committed during the commission of, attempt of, or escape from a specified felony such as robbery, kidnapping, rape, sodomy, arson, oral copulation, train wrecking, carjacking, criminal gang activity, drug dealing, or aircraft piracy.

    A defendant knowingly created a grave risk of death for one or more persons in addition to the victim.

    •  A defendant committed or attempted to commit more than one murder at the same time.

    •  A murder committed for pecuniary gain or pursuant to an agreement that the defendant would receive something of value.

    •  The defendant caused or directed another to commit murder, or procured the commission of the offense by payment, promise of payment, or anything of pecuniary value.

    •  A prior murder conviction, a felony involving violence or a serious felony.

    •  The murder of a child under age 11.

    •  The victim was a government employee killed in the course of his or her duties.

    •  The victim was a county or municipal corrections officer ot detention center employee.

    •  The victim was a family member of a governmental official.

    •  A murder of a witness or potential witness in a criminal case to prevent the witness from appearing.

    The defendant raped a child

    Source: The Death Penalty Information Center

The husband and wife accused of murder in the disappearance of Heather Elvis aren’t likely to face a death penalty if convicted.

Jimmy Richardson, 15th Judicial Circuit Solicitor, said his office is confident in the evidence they have accusing Tammy and Sidney Moorer of murdering Heather Elvis, but said it’s premature to talk about the death penalty.

“I think at this point we’re way too early to start worrying about death penalty,” he said. “Certainly we would want to have more evidence, we would want to have the body.”

Sidney Moorer, 38, and his wife Tammy Moorer, 42, were denied bond Monday after being charged Feb. 24 with murder and kidnapping in the disappearance of the 20-year-old Socastee woman who was last seen about a week before Christmas. The couple are also charged with obstruction of justice and two counts each of indecent exposure.

Greg McCollum, attorney for Tammy Moorer could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Kirk Truslow, a Myrtle Beach attorney representing Sidney Moorer, said he isn’t surprised the state isn’t looking at the death penalty.

“I didn’t think it ever would be,” he said. “Honestly, it seemed to me following the arrest that that wasn’t going to be an issue. ... “I never had any indication from anybody that that was going to be a part of this.”

The Elvis family and supporters of the Elvis family could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Colin Miller, an associate professor of criminal law and evidence at the University of South Carolina, said it would be difficult for prosecutors to seek the death penalty without a body.

“It’s pretty tough because in order to impose the death penalty, the jury has to find at least one aggravating factor beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said. “It’s difficult enough to prove the murder happened without the body.”

There are 12 aggravating factors in South Carolina including kidnapping, Miller said, and only one is required to impose a death sentence.

Arrest warrants said that on or about Dec. 18, the Socastee-area couple kidnapped and murdered “Heather Elvis with malice, forethought,” at the Peachtree Boat Landing.

“If they were able to secure a kidnapping conviction in addition to a murder conviction, they could seek the death penalty,” Miller said.

Richardson said his office won’t use the death penalty as a tool in the trial.

“We certainly don’t take anything like death penalty lightly,” he said. “Just to throw that out to gain some sort of advantage, we’re not going to do that.”

If prosecutors seek the death penalty in the future, Miller said that sentence would be for a jury to decide unless the defendant pleads guilty. In the case of a plea, Miller said it would be a judge’s decision.

Donna Elder, a 15th Circuit senior solicitor, outlined the state’s case against the Moorer’s Monday, detailing an affair Elvis had with Sidney Moorer from June 2013 until October. Elder said Tammy Moorer found out about the affair and began harassing Elvis with dozens of phone calls, text messages and threatening social media posts.

Defense attorneys on Monday said the evidence is circumstantial and has no link to tie the couple to Elvis’ disappearance.

Police, the Community United Effort Center for Missing Persons and community members searched for several months after Elvis was reported missing Dec. 19 when her car was found at the Peachtree Boat Landing.

Richardson said his office and police are continuing to collect evidence for the trial and said the investigation remains ongoing.

“We’ll certainly put this together as quickly as possible,” Richardson said. “We’ll move very expediently and try to get the case up and ready for trial.”

Truslow said he’s looking forward to his own investigation and a chance to look at the state’s evidence instead of the prosecution’s interpretation of the evidence, which was laid out Monday.

“I wish we could try the case this summer,” he said. “With the case that they have I would be ready by this summer, June or July.”

Richardson said the case likely will not be tried for at least a year.

Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381, or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_akelley.

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