Court rules to allow DNA testing as man fights murder conviction

DNA related to a 20-year-old murder case will be tested as the defendant maintains his innocence and seeks release from jail.

Gary Wayne Bennett appeared in Horry County Circuit Court on Friday on evidence requests related to his 2002 murder and armed robbery conviction. He is serving life in prison, but has said he is not guilty of the crimes.

Police say Bennett and Andrew Lindsey were each charged with murder for the May 2000 slaying of Eva Martin inside her Little River Road home. The two allegedly went to her home where her throat was cut twice with a butcher knife and she was positioned to make her death look like a sexual assault.

Appeals courts denied Bennett's efforts, but a judge granted what's called post-conviction relief paving the way for a new trial. Now, Bennett seeks to be released from jail.

On Friday, Bennett's attorney Amy Lawrence argued for several motions related to evidence issues as they try to show his innocence. Lawrence contended that the state is withholding several pieces of evidence. Lawrence was not Bennett's attorney during the initial trial.

One issue dealt with testing DNA found at the crime scene. The DNA testing was never done as two decades ago there were different procedures.

Lawrence said they chose a lab in Virginia to do the testing as it does work for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

Circuit Court Judge Steven John ordered that the items be tested, but that a SLED representative and a counterpart from the Virginia lab both be present. They will then issue a joint report to both sides in the case, John said.

Another issue dealt with video that the defense claims exists from a local police department and relates to a Lindsey confession. The defense states there are video recordings that show Lindsey confessing then having sex with his ex-wife.

But Lawrence raised concerns with video provided by the state. Initially, it provided a digital copy. Then it provided VHS tapes with an additional 47 minutes of content. Lindsey also questioned a 20-second portion of the video that was not present in other versions. She then questioned the fact the evidence logs show that the video was shot on 8mm film.

Lawrence had the former police officer who set up the film ready to testify during Friday's hearing.

However, Senior Assistant Solicitor Nancy Livesay said any video the state possessed it turned over to the defense. The prosecution found the 8mm tapes and took them to Coastal Carolina University which had a machine that could play them. The state also had its own police official ready to testify that he never saw a tape that showed Lindsey and his wife and their interactions.

John ruled the sides get together, review the videos and ask any questions of Lawrence's police official. The sides can then return to the judge for further guidance, if necessary.

Issues related to case files for Lindsey's previous convictions and telephone records also was discussed during Friday's hearing.

Following the proceedings, Lawrence said that many of the officers involved in the case died or face criminal charge. The defense is trying to get evidence that can lead to showing Bennett's innocence and she felt the judge agreed.

"That's exciting because we're slowly putting the pieces of the puzzle together so we can get an accurate depiction of what happened," Lawrence said.