A court hearing began on Monday to determine if the suspect accused of killing a child on an elementary school playground when he was 14 years old should be tried as an adult.
The teenager is charged with two counts of murder, three counts of attempted murder and five counts of a weapons charge after investigators said he shot his father to death before driving to Townville Elementary School's playground and opening fire.
The coroner identified the victims as 47-year-old Jeffrey Osborne and 6-year-old Jacob Hall.
In October 2016, the Solicitor's Office filed a motion to have the suspect tried as an adult in the case. Because of his age, if he were to be tried as an adult he would not be eligible for the death penalty but could face a sentence of up to life in prison
Beginning Monday, a judge will consider the seriousness of the offense and whether or not being in a juvenile setting would adequately rehabilitate the suspect if he is found guilty.
The suspect, now 15, arrived for Monday's hearing in a wheelchair. His attorney stated that the teen broke his leg while playing basketball while in juvenile jail.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Townville school shooting headlines
LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS TAKE THE STAND
Anderson County deputies and an FBI agent were the first to take the stand when testimony began in the hearing on Monday.
Ronald Wood with the Anderson County Sheriff's Office testified that the defendant stated that he was sorry and was crying. Wood said the suspect also told him that he knew he had killed his father and that he would have shot more people if he was able.
"'Good thing my gun jammed or I would shot or I would have shot more,' or 'good thing my gun jammed or I would have killed more,'" Wood recounted the teen saying.
Wood also testified about speaking to the teen's grandfather, who reportedly told him that the teen was home schooled because he had been bullied in school and that the boy spent most of the time in his room due to alcohol issues in the home.
Later, the defendant's attorney, Frank Epps, grilled Detective Tracy Call over how the defendant was mirandized and if special care was used when reading and explaining the teen's rights.
Call testified that his only interaction with the suspect occurred at the sheriff's office when the teen was interviewed, and that he felt the teen understood his rights.
"If he had asked for his family or for an attorney, we would have stopped the interview," Call said.
Call said they defendant never asked for an attorney or his mother during the interview.
"I really got the impression that he wanted to talk to us," Call testified.
Anderson County Detective Grady Epps also testified that if the defendant had asked for an attorney or for his family, the interview would have stopped immediately until those parties could be present.
Frank Epps argued that the suspect, who was 14 at the time, could not understand his constitutional rights and effectively make a decision to waive those rights at that age.
Video of the sheriff's office's interview with the suspect was played during the hearing, but the media was not allowed to view the recording.
The court released 46 pages transcribed from a video during which time they said the suspect confessed to the shooting. The defense attorney for the suspect has argued the confession should not be admissible and said a parent or lawyer should have been present when the teen was questioned.
The judge, however, said the suspect volunteered his confession and allowed it to be used in court.
In the document, the suspect tells investigators that he had faced bullying and was angry. He also said he believed God caused the gun to jam, stopping him from shooting more victims, the document states.
Below are excerpts from the transcript:Suspect: “There’s is a bunch of crazy stuff on my Instagram because last few months I’ve just been—”
Officer: “Seems like you have been having a hard time. And a person’s got to – you can’t keep it all bottled inside.”
Suspect: “Yeah. Unfortunately a pillow doesn’t help.”
Officer: “Did anyone know that you were going to go to the school today?”
Suspect: “The kids in my group. Yeah.”
Officer: Did you tell them this morning?”
Suspect: “Yeah. And they were cheering me on, so what else was I supposed to do? They’re just a bunch of lunatics.”
Officer: “Yeah, sometimes. That’s unfortunate. Unfortunately, those types of people are drawn to the internet.”
Suspect: “And you will see a bunch of Columbine and stuff like that on my page and stuff. I felt like this year, it’s like I had –”
Officer: “Because you’ve been bullied?”
Suspect: “Yeah. Basically, just started stuff.”Suspect: “Because nothing ever happened in this area.”
Officer: “Not in little Townville, you know?”
Suspect: “Only thing that’s happened in South Carolina is down at that church. So I can understand that. But—”
Officer: “How do you feel about the church?”
Suspect: “The church shooting – this guy with a mental illness went in, killed a bunch of black people, and then that’s how he—now he’s dead, isn’t he? On death row?”
Officer: “No. He’s still alive.”
Suspect: “I can’t get to death row, can I? I’m pretty sure I can’t. Because I would not want that.”
Officer: “Well, let me ask you this. What did you think the outcome today would be?”
Suspect: “Like total wise? I was thinking 20, 30 kids. I don’t even know.”
Officer: “You thought you would kill 23 kids?”
Suspect: “Yeah. And the kids – the kids in the group chat which are 14, 15, 16 and I think one is 17. They were all cheering me on.”Officer: "God's got a plan for all of us. We don't know what it is."
Suspect: "Before today I gave up home in God because of all the thoughts. Now I know that he is real. And probably the reason why the gun jammed is because of God."
Officer: "I thank God that gun did jam."
Suspect: "I thank God for that too. And I thank God for that fireman not shooting me in the back for moving an inch."PRINCIPAL TESTIFIES
Principal Denise Fredericks was the first witness to testify on Tuesday. She was asked about the day of the deadly shooting and described the moment she saw that Jacob Hall had been badly injured.
"There was a lot of blood," Fredericks said, who was audibly disturbed by the memory.
She recalled looking out a window and recognizing the suspect as a former student.
“It was shocking and then it was like, ‘he’s been here. He knows where everyone is inside, he knows how we drill, and what will we do if he gets inside?'”
Fredericks said the suspect had been a good student and everyone remembered him fondly from his time at the school.
Fredericks testified that many children were unable to return to school after the tragedy. She said some had transferred and others are now being home schooled.
She said many students are still fearful of another shooting.
“Our kids ask us is he coming back? Is he going to hurt us again?”
Safety drills have to be conducted differently now due to the trauma, and Fredericks said balloons can no longer be used during school celebrations because the sound of popping frightens the children. She said the school continues to see the effects on the students on a daily basis.
Next, Pamela Sanchez, a first grade teaching assistant took the stand. She testified that Jacob Hall called for her after he had been shot and told her that his leg hurt. She said she carried the six-year-old into the school hallway and then made sure the door to the playground was locked. When she returned seconds later, Sanchez said Jacob was already turning gray.
“Jacob was laying there lifeless, and there was blood all around him," Sanchez said through tears.
Thirdly, Jamie Brock, the Townville firefighter who apprehended the suspect and held him at gunpoint until deputies arrived.
The fireman testified that he told the boy to "freeze" and that the teen began shouting repeatedly that he was sorry.
"I asked him 'why did you do this,' and he said he did it because he didn't believe in God anymore," Brock testified.
Brock was hailed as a hero after the shooting but had not spoken publicly about the incident until he gave his testimony on Tuesday.
FBI AGENT TESTIFIES ABOUT TROUBLING SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS
FBI Special Agent Shandal Ewing testified on Tuesday regarding the messages sent from an Instagram account operated by the suspect.
Timestamps on messages indicate the suspect was sending them before and after authorities say he shot his father to death.READ MORE: FBI details messages sent by Townville shooting suspect
DAY 3 OF TESTIMONY
Special Agent Ewing continued to testify on Wednesday as the defense asked numerous questions about the Instagram messages and who the suspect had been interacting with.
Attorney's questioned the timing of some messages about his father being "dead as a door knob," because the time stamps on the messages did not match the father's time of death.
During the questioning, attorneys asked Ewing to read an exchange between the suspect and another person that included instructions which seemed to detail how to build a pipe bomb.
Ewing was also asked to read messages concerning something called "Project Rainbow" and requests sent about deleting some messages.
FOX Carolina will have a crew in the courtroom and provide updates when available.
The proceedings will be closed to the public.
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