Questions, contradictions surround deadly shooting incident

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Questions, contradictions surround deadly shooting incident

Published Saturday, April 2, 2011   |  609 Words  |  

According to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office report, Richard Santee's account of the events the night James Piotrowski was shot is not supported by evidence and information gathered at the scene.

The pistol held five rounds, alternating between No. 4 birdshot and Double 00 buckshot.

Piotrowski was shot three times with that weapon. The first shot -- birdshot -- wasn't considered to be at first range. The second and third shots -- buckshot, then birdshot -- were at closer, potentially "point blank" range. They struck him in the shoulder, neck and chin. He was shot a fourth time by a Brays Island Plantation security guard

The fourth and final shot fired from Santee's weapon was the one Piotrowski fired at Santee in the foyer, the report said. That contradicts Santee's statement that Piotrowski fired the handgun in the kitchen.

While there may have been a struggle in the kitchen for the weapon, investigators didn't find Santee's statement that his nephew grabbed the gun during that struggle and fired downward, striking his uncle in the lower leg, to be plausible, the report said.

Crime scene analysis and pellet trajectory from Piotrowski's autopsy suggest that angle could not have occurred.

Instead, investigators believe an armed Santee came into the kitchen and, from some distance away, shot Piotrowski in the abdomen. A struggle may have occurred at this point, when Santee, who was still holding the gun, fired two shots in quick succession at close range, the report said.

That's when investigators say Carolyn Santee came into the kitchen.

Santee likely put the weapon on the counter, left the kitchen and, overwhelmed by the "gravity" of what had just happened, collapsed at the base of the stairs in the foyer, the report said.

Deputies believe Piotrowski then grabbed the gun, went to the foyer, and, weakened by massive blood loss, slipped and fell. But then he managed to stand up and shoot Santee before being shot and killed by the security guard.

Questions remain

Santee was arrested March 22 at his home, according to the Sheriff's Office.

He was released from the Beaufort County Detention Center after posting 10 percent of a $100,000 bond and giving up his passport and an array of guns.

The case is expected to be presented to a grand jury April 21, according to 14th Judicial Circuit Court spokesman Daniel Brownstein. If indicted and convicted of the attempted murder charge, Santee faces up to 30 years in prison.

Regardless of the outcome, there are things investigators might never know, including what started the fight between the two.

No toxicology or blood-alcohol screening was done on Santee at the hospital to determine how much alcohol or drugs, if any, were in his system. Investigators said that was "unfortunate," according to the report.

A toxicology test was done on Piotrowski. It revealed he had a blood-alcohol concentration of .262 -- above the legal limit to be considered intoxicated. However, the reading could have been affected decomposition of his body, according to the report.

It's also unclear why there was a one minute, 42 second gap between the time Carolyn Santee called security and her 911 call to say her husband had shot her nephew in what she called "an accident."

Piotrowski's brother, Steven, told investigators he believes his aunt and uncle are hiding something about that night, the report said.

"It takes a man to say, 'I screwed up and made a bad decision,'" he said.