Fatal tow truck shooting case still pending

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Fatal tow truck shooting case still pending

Published Thursday, September 13, 2012   |  723 Words  |  

It's unclear when -- even whether -- the tow truck driver accused of shooting to death a Bluffton man on Christmas Eve 2010 will be tried for manslaughter, according to lawyers.

It depends on when and how the S.C. Court of Appeals rules on a key aspect of the case, and that depends on when the S.C. Attorney General's Office can begin preparing arguments on the case.

It doesn't appear that the case against Preston Oates will move forward anytime soon, though.

The Attorney General's Office is swamped with other cases and hasn't been able to begin work on the Oates case, deputy attorney general Bryan Stirling said Thursday. The office wants more time to prepare for the case.

"We're understaffed and we've had our resources cut, so we do what we can," Stirling said. "We're inundated with cases and we're trying to get to it."

The office has so much other work that it hasn't yet asked the appeals court for a date to argue the Oates case, Stirling added.

The issue the appeals court will consider is whether Oates should be tried at all for the death of 34-year-old Carlos Olivera. Olivera died after Oates shot him six times in a confrontation over an improperly parked minivan on which Oates had put a "boot."

Oates' attorneys -- Don Colongeli and Jared Newman -- say he should not be tried because he shot Olivera in self-defense. Olivera had approached Oates, who was sitting in his tow truck, with a handgun tucked in his pants.

A Beaufort County Court rejected that argument in March, and Oates' attorneys took their case to appeals court.

Oates' attorneys contend he should not be tried because South Carolina's "Castle Doctrine" allows a person to use deadly force to defend themselves in their homes, vehicles or businesses. Oates was a victim who had no choice but to shoot when Olivera approached his truck armed with a gun, they say.

Prosecutors counter that the Castle Doctrine doesn't apply in the Oates case. Oates fired the weapon he kept in his tow truck after Olivera was no longer a threat -- giving Oates no grounds to claim self-defense, prosecutors have argued.

Olivera's loaded weapon, for which he had a concealed-weapons permit, never was fired, they add.

Both the defense and prosecution acknowledge that the Castle Doctrine creates lengthy delays. It's possible the issue over whether the Castle Doctrine applies could take the case all the way to the state Supreme Court.

"You're going to see this in every homicide case," said 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone, whose office handled the case before it moved up to the appeals court. Although the Oates case is out of Stone's hands for now, he continues to advocate for changes to the self-defense law.

Oates' attorney Colongeli also said the delay "is, unfortunately, not abnormal."

"We have a client who is also interested in getting this resolved as quickly as possible," Colongeli said.

One of the people most frustrated with the delay -- it's already been 21 months since the shooting -- is Olivera's brother, Nelson Olivera.

"(Oates) is at home doing whatever he wants while my brother is underground," Nelson Olivera said. "A father was taken away from his kids, a hard-working young man who had never in his life been arrested. This was a good man.

"We're never going to forget and we're going to fight all the way to the end," he said.

Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/LCBlotter.

Related content:

Delay of months, possibly years, expected in fatal Bluffton tow truck shooting case, May 12, 2012

Judge upholds decision to allow Oates case to proceed to trial, March 13, 2012

Oates not immune from prosecution, judge rules, March 7, 2012