Trial starts in Horry County Sunhouse death penalty case
In an unusual move, attorneys for a man facing the death penalty started by telling a jury their client is guilty.
“Jerome Jenkins is guilty, he is guilty. He is guilty of the charges the state brought against him,” Defense attorney Ralph Wilson Sr. told a jury on Friday.
His client, Jerome “JJ” Jenkins, faces the death penalty in connection to murders and an armed robbery spree at Horry County convenience stores in January 2015.
The admission was because of the way death penalty cases work in South Carolina. Capital trials are split into two parts. One part is to determine if the person is guilty. The second part, if the person is found guilty, is for the same jury to determine if the person should face life in prison or the death penalty.
In typical cases, sentencing is left to a judge. For example, if a suspect pleads guilty, the judge determines how long they will spend in prison.
Wilson explained Jenkins wanted to plead guilty before the trial and have the jury — instead of the typical judge-decision process — decide his punishment.
Confusion on whether that plan is allowed under court rules led to a new strategy in which Jenkins admitted to the crime to the 16-member jury. The state will then present evidence and the jury will make its decision, in a de facto guilty plea.
That decision guarantees the jury will decide his guilt and therefore will decide Jenkins’ fate.
Jenkins — along with McKinley Daniels and James Daniels — is accused of robbing convenience stores in the Conway area. Investigators believe the trio killed Balla Paruchuri in January 2015 at a Sunhouse convenience store on S.C. Highway 905.
“Jerome Jenkins goes after Balla Paruchuri,” Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said during his opening statement.
Richardson said Paruchuri was defenseless and he died in a “hail of bullets.”
Weeks later the team allegedly robbed the Scotchman on Lake Arrowhead Road and the Sunhouse store on Oak Street, where clerk Trish Stull was shot and killed. Prosecutors say Jenkins and McKinley Daniels entered the stores and robbed them while James Daniels served as lookout and driver.
The community was on edge following the shooting, and officers visited shops at night to help employees safely close their businesses.
Last year, a jury convicted James Daniels of murder and two counts of armed robbery, and he was sentenced to life in prison. McKinley Daniels pleaded guilty earlier this year to murder and armed robbery and will spend at least 45 years behind bars.