A time of "closure"

Murder trial in law officer, domestic violence case
PHOTO ABOVE: Entered into evidence - Eighth Circuit Solicitor David Stumbo held a gun for the jury to see during court proceedings in July to determine the guilt or innocence of Benny Ray Brown Jr. in a 2011 double murder.

Deputy’s death, woman’s murder come to “closure” in guilty verdict

Domestic violence and the murder of a law enforcement officer, two issues too much in the 2016 news of South Carolina and the United States, came to a moment of closure in Laurens County in July of this year.

Benny Ray Brown Jr. was convicted of two murders and sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole in the 2011 deaths of Deputy Roger Rice Jr. and Nicole Kingsborough.

Rice’s legacy has lived on. The Hwy 56 interchange on I-26 is named for the fallen deputy. The Laurens County Sheriff’s Office honors him with a motorcycle run and a blood drive each year. His parents, Roger Sr. and Debra Rice, are among the most faithful volunteers at LCSO events.

Rice’s name is inscribed on the fallen officers’ monument on the Statehouse grounds in Columbia.

For many years, South Carolina has been number one or two in the nation in the rate of men killing women. The state ranks number five in that category now - the Legislature having been shamed into passing in 2015 tougher CDV criminal penalties.

Another anti-CDV law will be proposed in the 2016 General Assembly term. It will make strangulation and suffocation a felony; now, in SC, the violent act is a misdemeanor.

Brown shot both victims to death - his former girlfriend Kingsborough at her work in Fountain Inn, Deputy Rice in the front yard of a residence on Barrel Stave Road near Clinton as officers gathered to effect his arrest.

“I’m glad the case is over,” Laurens County Sheriff Ricky Chastain said after sentencing. “My prayer is for both sides to start the healing process. It has been a long ordeal. Each motion, each hearing brings up the emotions. Everyone can get some closure now. (Roger Rice Jr.) was young. He was not with us long. Law enforcement has suffered, too. This is an incident no sheriff wants to have happen on their watch.”

Brown’s case was the highest profile trial in Laurens County for 2016. The Clinton area was connected to four homicides this year (see 2016 timeline inside today’s issue) with the first happening in April and the fourth occurring in December.

Chastain lost his bid for re-election as sheriff. Republican Don Reynolds will take office on Jan. 3, 2017. It will be the first swearing in of elected officials for the new Laurens County Administrator Jon Caime, who came on board in May.

Clinton High School saw changes in athletics. CHS alumnae Nickie Templeton was named the Athletics Director. Former Red Devil quarterback Andrew Webb had the “interim” label removed from his football head coaching position after two seasons. Basketball and volleyball also went through coaching changes.

Clinton High varsity baseball won region and district championships. Laurens District High School varsity football won a region championship.

The City of Clinton was accepted into the SC Main Street program, and the city street-scaped the uptown area around the Municipal Building.

To enhance economic development, the city built a development-ready pad on Hwy 72 at I-26, and is partnering with a private developer to construct a spec building in a new Commerce Center at the intersection (see Page 1A photo).

The long-delayed frontage road of I-26, finally, opened. Zaxby’s joined Fatz and the Hampton Inn and Suites at this I-26 interchange, just east of Clinton High School. Meanwhile this month, the City of Laurens annexed a tract for the county’s first Arby’s and the Hwy 221 Exit 9 on I-385 for a gateway landscaping project. 

Nationally, New York billionaire Donald J. Trump was elected President of the United States. He has nominated SC Gov. Nikki Haley to be ambassador to the United Nations and 5th District Rep. Mick Mulvaney to head the administration’s budget office. An early Trump supporter, Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster will become governor, but who will be become the state’s lieutenant governor right now is undecided.

In Charleston, Dylann Roof was convicted of federal hate crimes for shooting to death nine people at Emanuel AME Church in 2015. He wanted to start a race war. He faces the death penalty in a sentencing trial next month. 

Along the coast, Hurricane Matthew struck in October, but did not come far enough inland to cause major damage in Laurens County. Joe Fuller, the Choo-Choo Man of Clinton, lost his pickup truck to flood waters in Nichols (eastern SC), but the Carolina Choo-Choo/Blue Hose Express survived and has gotten back on track.

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