Circuit Court Judge Markley Dennis Jr. responds to one of the lawyers representing Bluffton tow-truck driver Preston Oates Tuesday morning during a hearing at the Jasper County Courthouse in Ridgeland.(Photo: Sarah Welliver)
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Prosecutors can try a Bluffton tow-truck driver on manslaughter charges, a judge ruled Tuesday, upholding his earlier decision that Preston Oates is not shielded from trial by a South Carolina self-defense law.
Oates' lawyers say they will soon appeal Circuit Court Judge Markley Dennis Jr.'s decision.
Dennis on Tuesday denied a second request from the defense to dismiss charges against Oates based on the state's "Castle Doctrine," which grants immunity from prosecution to those who defend themselves or others from intruders in their homes, workplaces or vehicles.
Oates' attorneys had asked Dennis to reconsider his decision. Now, defense attorney Jared Newman said he will appeal the decision to the S.C. Court of Appeals within the next few days. Appeals Clerk of Court Jenny Kitchens said she could not estimate how long it would take for the appeal to be heard.
The S.C. Court of Appeals is composed of a chief judge and eight associate judges who can sit either as three panels of three judges each or as a whole, and may hear oral arguments and motions in any county of the state.
Dennis said Oates' attorneys will have an "interesting self-defense case to make" at trial. The Castle Doctrine, Dennis said, does not grant immunity to defendants who kill after an attack has ended.
He cited a surveillance video, witness statements and a pathology report as evidence that the argument over a booted minivan had ended and victim Carlos Olivera was walking away when Oates fired.
According to Dennis' order, the pathology report indicates that Olivera was shot six times, five times in the back.
"Again, I just believe the aggression had ceased," Dennis said.
Newman argued his client, a co-owner of Pro-Tow, was the victim of an attempted armed robbery and kidnapping in the Christmas Eve 2010 shooting.
Oates had been forced from his tow truck by a gun-wielding Olivera in the Edgefield community, Newman said. He shot Olivera at his first opportunity to defend himself, he said.
Newman said armed robbery and kidnapping are ongoing crimes.
"It is pretty clear that Mr. Oates was attacked in a manner defined by the statute," Newman said. "The question is, how does Mr. Oates know that the attack ended?"
What the Castle Doctrine addresses, Newman said, is an evolving issue.
Fourteenth Judicial Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone said the state legislature would "have to extend the Castle Doctrine to apply after the event has ended" for the defense's motion to be granted.
The prosecution has contended that Olivera, who had a concealed-weapons permit, had tucked his gun back in his waistband and was walking away when Oates shot him. Witnesses have said Olivera did not point the gun at Oates; a statement from his brother, Nelson, indicates he removed a gun from his waistband, showed it to Oates and put it back.
Oates has been free on bond since August.
Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/LCBlotter.
- Oates not immune from prosecution, judge rules, March 7, 2012
- Judge weighs evidence in hearing for tow-truck driver accused of manslaughter, Nov. 17, 2011
- Oates' defense seeks dismissal of manslaughter charge, Oct. 5, 2011
- Suspect in Bluffton Christmas Eve fatal shooting freed on bond, Aug. 31, 2011
- Oates on suicide watched, ordered to 60 days of seclusion after jail-break attempt, March 29, 2011