Trial dates set in Conway double-murder, bank robbery case

Brandon Council
Brandon Council

A federal judge set a tentative January 2019 trial date for Brandon Council, the man accused of a double murder and bank robbery at the Conway CresCom in August.

The judge's decision wasn't well received by either side. The prosecution asked for a November trial to allow for a quick resolution for the victims' families. Lawyers on behalf of the victims expressed concern about having to go through another holiday season without their loved ones.

Council's defense asked for an April 2019 trial. Council's attorney Duane Bryant commented on the amount of work and potential deadlines ahead of the January 2019 date set by the Judge R. Bryan Harwell.

The attorneys appeared in federal court in Florence on Friday to discuss the potential trial schedule.

Council, of Wilson, N.C., was indicted in September for armed robbery resulting in death, using a firearm in a violent crime that resulted in murder and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He is accused of shooting Kathryn "Katie" Davis Skeen and Donna Major while robbing the CresCom Bank in Conway on Aug. 21.

Both Skeen and Major worked at the bank.

Last month, the prosecution filed a notice to seek the death penalty.

Council spent most of the two-hour hearing staring at the floor directly in front of him. He was dressed in his prison-issued orange jumpsuit and was shackled. He only stood for 30 seconds to tell the judge that he agreed to give up his right to a speedy trial.

As each side made its case for trial dates, the U.S. Attorney planned to call members of the victims' families to the witness stand. After 20 minutes of side conversations between lawyers and the judge, the government only was allowed to summarize the families' feelings.

That decision was met by visible frustration by family members and shaking of their heads.

"They ask not to live through another holiday season without closure," assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson told the court.

The prosecution proposed a November trial date. Their timetable was similar to the one used in the church-shooter Dylann Roof case.

The defense called the Roof timetable an “aberration” and asked for an April 2019 trial date. Bryant described the investigation the defense must undertake, especially given the fact it was a capital case. Bryant said the April deadline was still aggressive when compared to other death penalty cases.

Both Bryant and Harwell said they were aware of the families' considerations. In fact, Bryant said the case could be over immediately if the government accepts their plea offer of guilty in exchange for life in prison.

“The matter could end today if that was the case,” Bryant said. As he spoke, members of the victims’ families shook their head “no.”

Harwell expressed concern for several groups, including potential jurors who could be called in November at the start of the holiday season.

Harwell also pressed lawyers on whether there needed to be a competency evaluation for Council. The judge said there were statements by Council during the investigation, such as that he “did not deserve to live” that raised concern.

The judge stopped short of ordering a competency evaluation as the defense said it wanted more time to conduct its investigation. If Council’s attorneys want an evaluation they said they would tell the court by the deadline, which falls months ahead of the trial.