The father of the Myrtle Beach area woman charged in connection with the disappearance of 20-year-old Heather Elvis, died Monday morning, but because of a gag order issued in the case, Horry County police Lt. Robert Kegler said he could not confirm officers had been called to the house for the natural death.
Horry County Coroner Robert Edge said Monday that William Caison, 69, died from natural causes. Caison was Tammy Moorer’s father.
It is unclear if Tammy Moorer will be permitted to leave the detention center to attend any funeral services for her father.
“We have procedures in place to accommodate the inmate’s needs, but for security reasons I can’t go into any details,” said Tom Fox, director for J. Reuben Long Detention Center.
Horry County officials are handling the security of Tammy Moorer, even though she is being held in Georgetown County. On Friday, Tammy Moorer, 42, and her 38-year-old husband, Sidney Moorer were each indicted on murder, kidnapping, obstruction of justice and two counts of indecent exposure charges by an Horry County grand jury, which met the day before, according to court records. Sidney Moorer is being held at the detention center in Horry County.
The indictments were true bill indictments, which means that the case will not have a preliminary hearing at which more evidence could be presented publicly. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for later this week.
Also on Friday, Circuit Court Judge Steven John approved a gag order that prohibits any prosecutors, defense attorneys or their staffs and members of law enforcement, who have investigated the case, to publicly speak about it.
On Monday, when asked about Horry County police officers being at the home of Tammy Moorer’s father, Kegler said he could not comment because of the gag order.
The four-page gag order keeps any person officially involved with the case from publically commenting or releasing any documents unless Judge John has approved the release beforehand, according to the order.
“Any covered person may petition the court, with notice to all counsel of record, for permission to make a public comment or to publicly release information when that comment or release is not specifically permitted by this order. However, no such comment or release shall be made until the court has approved it in an order, and the content of any proposed comment or release may not be revealed in the petition.”
Solicitor Jimmy Richardson, who could not be reached Monday for comment, said before the order was issued that he requested it in an effort to keep the trial in Horry County and prevent defense attorneys from requesting a change of venue because of the publicity. Richardson also last week denied a request from The Sun News to release information related to the execution of search warrants at the Moorer’s home.
Jay Bender, an attorney for the S.C. Press Association, said Monday that it was unusual for prosecutors to request a gag order in a criminal case because typically it is made by defense attorneys prior to trial.
“The defendants did not consent to it and from the judge’s perspective his goal is to make sure there is a fair trial,” Bender said and noted extensive questioning of potential jurors would address the pretrial publicity in the case. “I think this order goes beyond the restriction on participations in the trial by seeking to prevent citizen access to public records in the hands of public bodies other than law enforcement.”
“It’s always a problem when you have no one in the courtroom arguing for the right of the people to have access to both records and people who are involved in a case,” Bender said. “The Supreme Court of South Carolina has noted that it’s important for court proceeding and records to be open because the openness is what gives the public confidence the rules are being followed.”
Heather Elvis was last seen the night of Dec. 17 and last heard from early Dec. 18, according to authorities. She was reported missing Dec. 19 after Horry County police found her car, which was registered to her father, parked at the Peachtree boat landing. Elvis’ keys, cellphone and purse were not found in the locked car and she remains missing.
Police charged the Moorers with murder and kidnapping Feb. 24 in connection with Elvis’ death.
Contact TONYA ROOT at 444-1723 or follow her at Twitter.com/tonyaroot.