The murder trial of a Kingstree man accused of gunning down a Myrtle Beach man in a contracted hit outside of a nightclub in 2015 was off to a slow start Tuesday.
The debate of what evidence should be allowed in the trial from Monday’s pre-trial motions seeped into Tuesday as jurors filed in and out of the courtroom for each debate. But opening statements seemed to catch the mostly female jury’s attention.
“Lying in wait, armed and ready, dressed in all black on a cold winter night in Myrtle Beach,” deputy solicitor Seth Oskin said Kevin Tyrone Bryant crouched behind a car, waiting to kill his prey.
When 23-year-old Saequen Vereen left the former Club Levelz on Ninth Avenue North, Bryant, 31, sprung into action and shot Vereen multiple times before he, too, was shot by an armed security guard and fled the scene, Oskin said in his opening statement.
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“Kevin Bryant and only Kevin Bryant fired that weapon into Saequan Vereen and killed him,” he said.
But Bryant’s attorney, Kia Wilson, told the jury the theories they just heard in opening statements were not evidence. She asked the jury to remember her client is innocent until proven guilty and that it is the state’s job to prove it.
In pre-trial motions, witnesses told the Bryant was hired to kill Vereen by another man, who was supposed to deposit money into his account. Witnesses also alleged gang activity. But prosecutors didn’t mention either in opening statements.
Bryant is accused of hiding in between cars in a parking lot outside of the club as he waited for Vereen to exit in the early hours of Feb. 15, 2015. When Vereen came out, police say Bryant gunned him down.
A call of shots fired at the club came in at 2:35 a.m., Myrtle Beach Police Officer Daniel Eddy told the court. One man was down and another man, described as a black male, wearing all black, had fled the scene on foot.
“I was riding with a sergeant and we were one of the first ones on scene,” Officer Michael Householder told the court. He said he saw a crowd of people running from Club Levelz and then his attention was drawn to a man laying face down on the sidewalk.
Householder said he turned him over to check for a pulse and observed Vereen had been shot multiple times “to his chest and body.” He said he started CPR.
Vereen died on the scene outside at the 515 Ninth Ave. N. club, which was closed in the days that followed.
At 2:41 a.m., Eddy said he was headed towards the club when he saw a man matching the description of the gunman walking a few blocks northwest of the crime scene. He was wearing all black, he said. “He was actually the only person I saw going to the call.”
Eddy called it in and asked the man to take a seat.
Eddy said he noticed the man, later identified as Bryant, was favoring an arm. When he went to detain him in handcuffs, he said, he realized Bryant was bleeding from what appeared to be a gunshot wound.
Two armed security guards at the club that night testified that they returned fire after Bryant refused to lower his gun on their command.
One of the guards, Ronald Poston, said he thought he wounded Bryant’s arm. Both guards later identified Bryant as the shooter and told the court they did so with certainty, but under cross examination they admitted they never saw Bryant’s face.
Jody Sutton, who worked as a crime scene detective on the Myrtle Beach Police force in February 2015, said he reviewed surveillance footage in a private room in the back of the club that morning.
Detectives said they scoured through 15 hours of footage from 16 different surveillance cameras to find a recording of the shooting. Using Sutton and then later Poston and Sean Bettengill, who was working with Poston on security at the club that night, to narrate, they played the footage for the jury.
Different cameras showed the suspect hanging out by vehicles in the parking lot and then crouching between them, Sutton explained to the jury as the footage played on a large-screen TV.
Two more videos from different cameras showed Vereen trailing behind others as he left the club. When he reached the void in between parked cars where police say Bryant was hiding, a muzzle flash lit up the top right corner of the screen. Vereen was down. Bettengill and Poston told the jury they rushed over to engage the shooter and fired their weapons.
“He staggered as if he had been hit and took off running in between cars,” Poston said.
He told the court he saw the suspect drop his gun as he ran across the street and fled in the direction where Eddy said he stopped Bryant near the corner of Mr. Joe White Avenue and Oak Street.
Bryant was indicted on charges of murder and the unlawful possession of a pistol. He has been held in the J. Reuben Long Detention Center since his arrest in February 2015.
In March of that year, police also charged 35-year-old Robbie Lee Bufkin of Loris with murder, the unlawful possession of a pistol and second-offense trafficking in cocaine.
According to arrest warrants, Bufkin “offered money for the murder of the victim, did hire Bryant to commit the murder and was instrumental in planning the execution-style murder.”
Bufkin’s murder and weapons charges were dropped in May as he pleaded guilty to the trafficking charge. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison with credit for time served.
Thirty-four-year-old Tiffany Miranda Taylor of Kingstree was charged with being an accessory after the fact in the murder case earlier this year. Her case is still pending, according to online court records.
The trial resumes at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.