Uncle charged in Brays Island slaying released from jail

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Uncle charged in Brays Island slaying released from jail

Published Wednesday, March 23, 2011   |  738 Words  |  

A Brays Island man charged with attempted murder after allegedly shooting his nephew during a Thanksgiving eve family gathering last year was released from jail Wednesday.

Richard Santee, 68, was released from the Beaufort County Detention Center after posting $10,000 of a $100,000 bond and giving up his passport and an array of guns, fulfilling bond conditions set earlier in the day in Magistrate Court, according to detention center director Philip Foot.

Authorities say Santee shot his nephew, James Piotrowski, 42, of Stuart, Fla., on Nov. 24 during an argument at Santee's Brays Island Drive home.

Magistrate Judge Ned Tupper ordered that Santee turn his passport over to the court and that all weapons be removed from his home. Santee also was ordered to have no contact with Piotrowski's widow, Tracey, or brother, Steven, both of Jacksonville, Fla.

Tupper made those rulings after Beaufort County Sheriff's Office officials expressed concerns over the family's safety and the possibility that Santee, who often travels outside the country, could be a flight risk.

"We showed up at their home on Thanksgiving with a turkey, and I left with an evidence bag full of my husband's bloody watch and his glasses and other personal items," Tracey Piotrowski, 39, told Tupper during the hearing. "My life is absolutely upside down."

She said she has nightmares from her seeing her husband's body after the shooting and has been on anti-anxiety medication since the incident. She said her husband was a former naval officer who worked in sales. She added that they were close to Santee and "loved him like a father." Carolyn Santee, Richard Santee's wife, is the sister of James Piotrowski's mother.

Steve Piotrowski spoke of his concerns about Richard Santee harming others and being a possible flight risk because he travels frequently.

"When he snaps he could do harm to his family, himself and his wife," he said.

Santee's wife was not present at the hearing. Attempts to reach her and Santee were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Attorneys Mike Macloskie and Larry W. Weidner II, who represented Richard Santee at the hearing, argued he was not a flight risk. They said his guns were for sporting use only.

"This happened four months ago," Macloskie said. "If he wanted to leave, he would have done so already."

Santee, a retired podiatrist, has lived at Brays Island for seven years and has deep ties to the community, Macloskie said. He has no criminal history and no evidence of psychiatric or nervous disorders, he said.

Tupper told Piotrowski's family members he wouldn't discuss the facts of the case, but said he understood their concerns about the weapons.

"This is a very tough decision for me," Tupper said. "Assuming some of the facts are true, something went awry."

After the hearing ended, Tracey Piotrowski had mixed feelings about the outcome.

"I'm not really feeling good about his release, but the restrictions are a step in the right direction," she said. "The truth about that night will come out eventually."

Sheriff's spokeswoman Sgt. Robin McIntosh said after the hearing that Santee's attorneys would be responsible for ensuring that his weapons were removed from the home. Macloskie said Carolyn Santee quickly turned over her husband's passport and removed all of his firearms after the hearing and gave them to a family friend for safekeeping.


Santee was arrested without incident Tuesday morning at his home, according to the Sheriff's Office.

According to law enforcement accounts of the incident, Santee pulled a Taurus Judge revolver loaded with .410 shotguns shells from the closet of his first-floor bedroom during an argument with his nephew.

Piotrowski was shot three times. Piotrowski then retrieved the gun from the counter where Santee had placed it and pointed it at him, according to an autopsy at the Medical University of South Carolina.

At that point, Charles Gary Knox, a security guard at Brays Island Plantation, arrived. Through a window, Knox saw Piotrowski shoot Santee. Knox, 58, of Beaufort, then came into the house through an unlocked door and fired the shot that killed Piotrowski, according to Sheriff P.J. Tanner. Knox was not charged. Tanner said in December the guard was justified in shooting Piotrowski.