January 9, 2013

Horry County man convicted of murder, serving two life sentences granted new trial

A new trial was ordered for a 40-year-old man serving a life sentence in prison for the shooting deaths of an Horry County couple.

A new trial was ordered for a 40-year-old man serving a life sentence in prison for the shooting deaths of an Horry County couple.

Circuit Court Judge Steven John issued an order Monday granting Richard Gagnon a new trial. The order comes four months after Gagnon appeared before John seeking a new trial and citing new evidence.

It is unclear when Gagnon’s case will be tried.

Gagnon was convicted in the deaths of Diane and Charles Parker Sr., who were found shot to death on the morning of April 12, 2005, inside their home in the Nixonville community off S.C. 90 near S.C. 22. The Parkers owned and operated a business, Mirrortec, on their property and workers found their bodies inside the home.

Gagnon was convicted in their deaths and ordered to serve two life sentences on two counts of murder and 30 years in prison for first-degree burglary. The sentences were ordered to run concurrently.

John ruled that Gagnon deserved a new trial after the testimony of Robert Troy Taylor, who was convicted on unrelated charges in Georgetown County and had served time in prison alongside Robert Mullins, a man who said he lied in court about Gagnon. John ruled that Taylor’s testimony was new evidence and met the criteria to grant Gagnon a new trial.

“Mr. Taylor’s testimony was discovered after trial and could not have been discovered before trial in the exercise of due diligence because of the dates that Taylor was imprisoned with Mullins and Gagnon,” John wrote in the order. “The court finds the testimony to be material because it squarely attacks the credibility of a major piece of evidence the state used in its case against Richard Gagnon, and because it is the only testimony of this type existing, it is not merely cumulative and impeaching.”

During an appeal hearing in October, Taylor testified that Mullins lied at Gagnon’s initial trial when he insinuated that Gagnon had confessed to his part in the murders.

Taylor, who is also serving a life sentence in South Carolina, said he was in the same jail as Mullins and that Mullins had told him at least four times between 2006 and 2007 that he had lied and Gagnon was wrongfully in prison because of it.

Taylor testified he did not come forward sooner because he would have been called a snitch.

Taylor said he had put Mullins’ story out of his mind until he met Gagnon at Lee Correctional Institute and decided that he couldn’t stand to see an innocent man stay in prison if he could do something about it.

During a September hearing, Nico Coty Toscani, said Mullins had admitted the same lie while the pair was incarcerated together at Tyger River Correctional Institute.

Gagnon’s appeal was heard by the S.C. Court of Appeals after the conviction of Bruce Antwain Hill, 27, of Tabor City, N.C. in September 2011. Hill was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole and 30 years on a first-degree burglary charge, with those sentences running concurrently.

Horry County police charged Hill in 2009 after his DNA sample, which was taken when he was committed to the Tennessee Department of Corrections to serve a seven-year prison sentence, was uploaded into a national database and linked to the Parkers’ deaths, according to authorities.

Hill is serving a sentence in Tennessee after he pleaded guilty to robbery and conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery in connection with a Nov. 15, 2006, incident there. His sentence is expected to be up in 2014.

Hill was returned to Horry County in October, but he invoked his Fifth Amendment right and refused to testify in Gagnon’s appeal.

Gagnon, who had dated Diane Parker’s daughter, Bambi Bennett, has denied playing a role in the slayings and during a hearing in September Gagnon denied knowing Hill.

Bennett also was charged in the deaths of her mother and stepfather, but prosecutors later dropped those charges. She also denied knowing Hill.

Prosecutors linked Gagnon to the crimes after blood was found on Gagnon’s shoes, which was linked to Charles Parker Sr.

But Gagnon said he got blood on his shoes after he went inside the Parkers home after police and crime scene had left and removed crime scene tape.

Gagnon said he went inside the home to retrieve car keys, a cell phone and Diane Parker’s purse for Bennett. Bennett, after being questioned by police, had left her purse in a police vehicle that drove away, according to testimony.

Bennett testified that Gagnon came out of the Parkers’ house and said he had stepped in some blood, so she told him to wash it off.

Gagnon said he got the blood on his shoes when he went to close window blinds to keep Bennett from seeing the blood on the floor in the bathroom where Charlie Parker Sr. was found.

“I tried to step around it as best I could,” Gagnon said during the September hearing.

Gagnon testified he was at home with Bennett and her two children when police said the Parkers were killed.

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