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Attorneys for a tow-truck driver charged in the fatal Christmas Eve shooting of a Bluffton man will argue their client acted in self defense during a Beaufort County Circuit Court hearing today .
Preston Ryan Oates, 28, of Bluffton, is charged in the shooting death of Carlos Alberto Olivera, 34, during a parking dispute.
Oates' attorneys, Don Colongeli and Jared Newman, say their client should be granted immunity under the state's Castle Doctrine, which gives residents the right to protect themselves, their families and others in their homes, businesses and vehicles, according to a motion filed July 28.
Colongeli said Wednesday a decision made in May by the S.C. Supreme Court sets a precedent that allows for a pre-trial immunity hearing to determine if self-defense applies under the Castle Doctrine. He cited the case of State v. Duncan
In that case, the court held that the doctrine provides immunity from prosecution if a person is killed while trying to force his way into a home.
"We hope to be able to able to raise the presumption that (the) Castle Doctrine applies here," Colongeli said. "If we meet the presumption, it's up to the state to disprove that it doesn't apply."
Oates' motion argues that he was just doing his job enforcing parking regulations in the Edgefield community when he was "accosted" by Olivera and his brother, Nelson.
It says Carlos Olivera threatened Oates and brandished a loaded handgun, causing the driver to fear for his life.
Oates then acted in self-defense, it argues.
Colongeli said the immunity hearings were "new territory" for state defense attorneys because the state high court decision was so recent.
"Everyone realizes this was a tragedy, but we think the actions of Carlos Olivera are what brought on his death," he said.
On the night of the shooting, Oates told Beaufort County sheriff's investigators he retreated to his tow truck after Olivera's family and others began to approach him when he put a wheel boot on Olivera's minivan, court documents show.
He told investigators he heard what sounded like a gun being cocked and that Olivera was in mid-draw when Oates fired.
Witnesses have said Olivera did not point a weapon at Oates, but a statement from Nelson Olivera indicates the victim removed a gun from his waistband, showed it to Oates and put it back. Carlos Olivera had a concealed-weapons permit.
He was shot six times -- four times in the back, once in the arm and once in the head -- according to the 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor's Office. His gun was found 18 feet from his body, investigators have said.
Oates was arrested three days later.
Judge Markley Dennis Jr., a Circuit Court judge from Monks Corner, will hear today's arguments, scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m.
Follow reporter Cassie Foss at twitter.com/LcBlotter.