No more mercy for Price, SC attorney general tells solicitor who secured killer’s release

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson has laid down the law to 5th Circuit Solicitor Byron Gipson when it comes to giving mercy to convicted killer Jeroid Price.

“The State does not consider it in the public interest that Mr. Price receive a reduction in sentence,” Wilson wrote Gipson in a one-page letter.

“Accordingly, as South Carolina’s chief prosecutor, I do not authorize any sentence reduction … unless I personally approve,” Wilson wrote.

Price, 43, was released from prison earlier this year after serving just 19 years of a 35-year prison sentence for murder. In 2002, Price shot and killed Carl Smalls Jr. execution-style in a Columbia nightspot. Smalls had played football at the University of South Carolina and the University of North Carolina.

Price’s attorney, state Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, worked with Gipson and now-retired Judge Casey Manning to secretly release Price in March. Once Price’s release became public, sparking widespread criticism of the release, Wilson asked the Supreme Court to order that he be returned to jail, which the court did.

Asked by The State newspaper for comment, Gipson texted, “I respect Attorney General Wilson’s opinion as it relates to this statute (concerning early inmate releases) and the Jeroid Price matter.”

Wilson’s letter was sent last week to Gipson a day after a landmark decision by the South Carolina Supreme Court formally overturned Price’s secret release.

Price had been released under a state law that allows inmates to get out of prison early if it can be shown they have significantly helped law enforcement. Price did help law enforcement in some major and minor cases, according to Rutherford.

But that law also requires the solicitor and the judge to follow certain steps, all of which must be public, if an inmate is to be released, the Supreme Court ruled in a 3-2 decision.

Because Gipson and Manning kept the process secret, even to the point of sealing court records so no one would find out what happened, Price’s release was invalid, the high court’s majority ruled.

“We are greatly troubled by the fact that neither Solicitor Gipson nor Judge Manning made any effort to comply with even one of the requirements” for an early release, the opinion said. The requirements include holding a hearing and filing motions in court so the public would have access to what was going on, the high court noted. The opinion was hailed as a ringing endorsement for openness in the state’s courts.

In his letter to Gipson, Wilson wrote that the Supreme Court’s majority opinion had noted that the Attorney General has jurisdiction over early convict release cases such as Price’s. That opinion, written by Associate Justice John Cannon Few, was joined by Associate Justices John Kittredge and D. Garrison Hill.

A minority opinion, by Associate Justice George “Buck” James and Chief Justice Donald Beatty, asserted that solicitors, who are elected, are independent actors when it comes to early releases for inmates who allegedly help law enforcement.

Last week, Rutherford said he would once again seek to have Price released, this time in an open process.

This week, Rutherford, to whom Wilson sent a copy of the letter to Gipson, continued to say he will seek Price’s release in the future but did not say when.

And in a letter to Gipson, Rutherford stressed he believes the law allowing early inmate releases does not include getting the approval of the attorney general.

“This statute does not contain any provisions which grant Mr. Wilson any authority in the matter,” wrote Rutherford.

Moreover, wrote Rutherford, since 2010 he has been introducing a bill that would give the attorney general’s office a key role in any proceeding concerning early inmate release in cases where they have helped law enforcement. But the Legislature has failed to pass the bill, Rutherford wrote.

“Therefore, Mr. Wilson has no authority…,” wrote Rutherford.

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