Judge weighs evidence in hearing for tow-truck driver accused of manslaughter

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Judge weighs evidence in hearing for tow-truck driver accused of manslaughter

Oates' defense seeks immunity under state's 'Castle Doctrine'
By CASSIE FOSS
cfoss@islandpacket.com
Published Thursday, November 17, 2011   |  1388 Words  |  

It will likely be a month or more before a judge rules whether manslaughter and weapons charges against Preston Oates, a tow-truck driver accused of fatally shooting a Bluffton man on Christmas Eve, will be dismissed, Oates' attorneys said after a pre-trail hearing Thursday.

Circuit Court Judge Markley Dennis said he will review arguments and evidence presented by prosecutors and defense attorneys before ruling on whether the state's "Castle Doctrine" gave Oates the right to shoot Carlos Alberto Olivera, 34, during a parking dispute.

After the hearing, Oates, 28, former co-owner of Pro-Tow, said he hoped a favorable ruling would come soon.

"I just hope this will be done quickly because it's delaying my innocent verdict," he said.

During the hearing, defense attorneys Don Colongeli and Jared Newman argued their client should be granted immunity under the doctrine, which gives residents the right to protect themselves, their families and others in their homes, businesses and vehicles.

Newman argued Oates was doing his job enforcing parking regulations in the Edgefield community when he was forced out of his truck by Olivera, who he said threatened him and brandished a loaded handgun. Oates feared for his life, Newman said.

Dennis said Oates' was not required to prove self defense, but must show he acted within the scope of the doctrine in protecting himself from an attack. He cited a May decision by the state Supreme Court in State v. Duncan which set the precedent for pre-trial immunity hearings.

"I don't need to deal with self-defense in this stage -- it applies at trial," he said. "The statute states that you don't have to worry if someone's armed or not -- if you fall under the statute, you have the right to shoot."

Dennis called the task ahead a "nightmare."

The issue, he said, was conflicting evidence from prosecutors that suggesting the men had "disengaged" from their argument over the wheel boot and that Olivera had placed his gun in his waistband and began to walk away.

Fourteenth Judicial Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone said Olivera's six gunshot wounds were in the back and the back of his neck. He said Oates' statements to investigators conflict with forensic evidence. Oates wasn't forced out of the truck, he said.

"The issue before you is whether someone can be walking away-- the fight's over. Can you still shoot? That's not what I think the state intended," Stone said. "The doctrine is to protect yourself from intruders or attacks, not to shoot someone when the gun is put away."

He pointed to a surveillance-camera video that shows Olivera had turned away before muzzle flashes appear on the screen.

"The video and pathology consistently show that Carlos was taking steps back," Stone said. "You don't see any of the alleged force Oates has alluded to."

Newman argued that even if Olivera turned away, it was obvious the argument wasn't over. He said Oates was entitled to immunity because he was forced from his truck by a gun-wielding Olivera.

NEW DETAILS

In a 911 tape played in court Thursday, people can be heard yelling in the background. Oates told a dispatcher he had put a boot on a vehicle and had been threatened by a man with a gun.

Oates said he was about to get our of the truck to remove the boot when the man "stuck the gun in my face, so I shot him. I don't know how many times I shot him. I don't know where -- in the stomach, in the face."

He told the operator to send deputies, EMS personnel and the coroner. He is overheard telling someone, "I'll see you in hell."

He's also heard telling people not to touch the gun in the road. "If they pick up that gun, I'm going to shoot them," he says. "If they pick it up, then they're threatening me."

He also speaks of having "flashbacks" to an incident in which he was stabbed during a previous towing dispute.

The tape was played during the testimony of Beaufort County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Angela Viens, lead investigator.

Olivera and his family were at his brother's Live Oak Walk home and his van was parked on the street, which was not allowed. Oates had an agreement with the homeowners association to tow vehicles in the neighborhood, Viens testified.

Olivera's brother Nelson told Viens his brother had a gun but did not raise it, Viens said. She said witnesses said that while Nelson Olivera was attempting to remove the boot, Carlos Olivera calmed down and put the gun back in his waistband. That's when he was shot by Oates, she said.

Carlos Olivera's gun was found about 18 or 20 feet away from his body, Viens said.

Oates said in an interview with investigators three days after the inciden that he never touched Olivera's gun, according to a recording played in court.

Prosecutors contend Oates threw the gun after Olivera was shot.

FAMILIES REACT

After the hearing, Oates father Paul said he was happy some his son's side of the story was presented.

He said that whatever the judge rules, Preston Oates was defending himself.

"Absolutely he was forced," he said. "He was kidnapped. In every other case Preston has been involved in investigators have realized he was the victim. This is no different."

No decision is expected before January, Newman said. He said that although the judge could hold a hearing to issue the ruling, he expected the decision to be released directly to attorneys.

The decision can be appealed by both sides.

Olivera family members said reliving that night was difficult, but hoped Dennis would take time to fully review the evidence.

Gilbert Araya, Carrlos Olivera's brother-in-law, said they would not be able to celebrate the holidays this year.

"We'll bring presents for them, (Carlos' children) but no matter what gifts they get, we can't bring back their dad."

Follow reporter Cassie Foss at twitter.com/LcBlotter.

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