Crime

Heather Elvis family launches online petition to remove judge in murder trial

Handwriting of Heather Elvis held dear by mom, sister

Sister Morgan and mother Debbi Elvis on the Heather Elvis memorial vigil and life since her disappearance. The vigil, H.E.L.P.P., stands for Hope, Encouragement, Love, Purpose, Perseverance.
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Sister Morgan and mother Debbi Elvis on the Heather Elvis memorial vigil and life since her disappearance. The vigil, H.E.L.P.P., stands for Hope, Encouragement, Love, Purpose, Perseverance.

The family of missing Horry County woman Heather Elvis has started an online petition to remove Circuit Court Judge R. Markley Dennis from presiding over the the murder trial of accused couple Tammy and Sidney Moorer.

The petition, posted Wednesday and shared on Heather Elvis Facebook pages, is seeking 5,000 signatures from supporters, and states the judge should be removed for several reasons, including the “appearance of impropriety” because they say the judge was a schoolmate of Sidney Moorer’s father in Summerville.

Dennis declined to comment Thursday through his law clerk Lindsey Coffey, who added in an email that “he is forbidden under the Judicial Canons of Ethics to comment on any pending cases before him.”

The petition collected more than 1,500 signatures by Thursday morning, and the family plans to submit it with a letter to the state Supreme Court, which gave Dennis authority over the case sometime after Christmas.

“We just want to make sure this thing [the trial] is completely unbiased,” said Debbi Elvis, Heather Elvis’ mother.

She said the family is not accusing the judge of impropriety, but the appearance of it, and she wouldn’t want anyone to say the judge was lenient on the Moorers or harsh on them because of the connection.

She said they received information about this matter, which is third on their list of concerns, by someone in the Horry County Solicitor’s Office.

Horry County Solicitor Jimmy Richardson verified the judge attended the same school as Sidney Moorer’s father decades ago, but said he didn’t want to comment further because it was not his office’s petition. He also said the gag order, put in place by Judge Steven John on March 21, 2014, prohibited him from discussing the case.

Dennis’ court is in Charleston and all proceedings take place there, forcing all involved parties to travel roughly three hours round trip, Debbi Elvis said, and the difficulty of that trek is the first concern listed on the petition.

“It’s a big hardship,” Debbi Elvis said.

She said the drive is risky for the family because they’ve had so many threats, and she doesn’t like people to know when they’ll be on the road and away from home.

“Not only does our family have to make the trip and lose business and time but those friends and supporters are forced to make the trip,” the petition states. “This is and has been a hardship on all of those who make the trip not to mention the tax payer funded travel expenses for the solicitor’ s office and all of the staff needed to handle the court motions.”

The family expressed these concerns before a bond reconsideration hearing was held for Sidney Moorer over the summer, but the hearing took place in Charleston despite their complaints, Debbi Elvis said.

The family also said they were not allowed to speak at the last bond modification hearing, which they say is violation of their rights.

Dennis granted bond for the Moorers in late January and allowed them to relocate to Florida for work in September.

A trial date was set for May 11, but that date was canceled when a continuance order was filed March 24, and a new trial date has since not been set.

A vigil is planned to remember the two-year anniversary of the disappearance of Heather Elvis at 5 p.m. Friday at Peachtree Landing in Socastee where her abandoned car was found Dec. 19, 2013. Heather Elvis was last seen Dec. 17, 2013 and last heard from on Dec. 18, 2013. She remains missing.

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