UPDATE WEDNESDAY 6:15 PM: Jurors will continue their deliberations on Brandon Council’s sentencing Thursday.
Eight women and four men are the jurors for the CresCom trial. Judge Bryan Harwell sent them to the juror room for deliberation around 2:20 P.M. They stayed in there for about four hours before Judge Harwell decided to let them continue on Thursday.
Before going to the juror room, Judge Harwell charged the jurors and reminded them they must weigh mitigating and aggravating evidence when making a decision.
Aggravating factors are facts and circumstances that increase the severity of a criminal act. Mitigating factors are circumstances that can reduce the punishment Council receives.
There are a total of 50 mitigating factors the Judge told jurors they must consider. Those factors included Council’s life without the presence of his parents, the death of his grandmother, sexual and physical abuse he faced at Dobbs, the fact that he has a son and several more.
Judge Harwell told jurors they must also consider that Council has been well behaved during trial along with the fact that Council’s mother hasn’t come for any part of trial.
During deliberation, jurors have the opportunity to review all the evidence presented in any phase of trial. If they are unable to make a decision, Judge Harwell will sentence Council to life in prison.
“I ask that when you go into the juror room that you don’t forget Donna and Katie,” the U.S Attorney told jurors before ending his argument.
Defense Attorney Duane Bryant also raised a question for the jurors.
“Does killing that boy fix whatever is wrong? Does it bring back those ladies? Ask yourself what problem is it going to solve,” Bryant told jurors.
Count on News13 for all updates on jury deliberation.
UPDATE WEDNESDAY 2:15 PM: Jurors have been sent to deliberate a verdict in the death penalty trial for convicted murderer Brandon Council.
Council was found guilty on on Sept. 24 after 45 minutes of deliberation for the double murder and robbery at Conway’s CresCom bank. The two victims murdered were Donna Major and Katie Skeen.
Count on News13 for updates on the juror’s verdict.
UPDATE TUESDAY 5 PM: The Defense rested in the death penalty sentencing trial of convicted murderer Brandon Council.
However, the judge agreed to allow prosecutors to bring in a rebuttal witness after the defense rested. They brought a former employee from Dobbs Youth Training School in to testify.
The employee was a United States Army Sergeant over the school’s Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps program from 1999-2002.
Prosecutors asked the Sergeant if he remembered students being physically or sexually abused by Dobbs staff members.
“There were rumors, but I’m not aware of it,” he responded.
Defense Attorney Duane Bryant cross-examined the Sergeant and asked him how he would describe Dobbs.
“It was a good place for kids,” he told Bryant.
Bryant followed by asking about what segregation was like at the facility. Several former Dobbs students testified for the defense saying Dobbs segregation was “worse than prison.” All of those witnesses are now serving time in the North Carolina prison system.
Students recalled being in segregation 23 hours during the day with only one hour for showers and going outside. The Sergeant confirmed the segregation statements.
“Even for a strong man, would you say that is torture,” Bryant asked the former employee.
“It could be considered torture,” the Sergeant responded.
A parent of a former Dobbs student testified on Monday and said his son hung himself while in segregation. The student was found and taken to a hospital. The defense presented evidence to support the testimony.
“I do believe I remember an incident of such, but at this period of time, I do not recall,” the Sergeant said when asked about the incident.
According to the Sergeant, there was also a staff member who committed suicide at Dobbs. The Sergeant said the staff member was in the administrator’s office and shot himself in the head.
During Dr. Deborah Grey’s interviews with Brandon Council, she said Council mentioned hearing a gunshot one day. Students and staff later discovered the adult had committed suicide.
The Sergeant said he wasn’t sure why the staff member shot himself but heard it was due to not getting a different job position.
Bryant also questioned the Sergeant on violence at the facility between students. The Sergeant said fights happened frequently in the stairwells.
Testimonies concluded following the Sergeant. Trial will continue on Wednesday with closing statements.
Stay with News13 for updates from the trial as they become available.
UPDATE TUESDAY 1 PM: The Defense presented Dr. Deborah Grey, a licensed clinical social worker, who was hired by the defense to build a family Genogram on convicted murderer Brandon Council.
The Genogram is used to display a person’s family history and medical history. Grey spent 600 hours collecting information for the study.
Dr. Grey showed a family tree that included Council’s paternal side and maternal side. On the paternal side, she saw a history of depression, PTSD, hallucinations, substance abuse and more.
There wasn’t much information on his mother’s side due to the family not cooperating with the study.
Dr.Grey interviewed 85 people to learn about Council’s background and said he was a good kid until after the seventh grade.
According to Dr.Grey, this was a hard time in Council’s life due to his primary caregiver, his grandmother, dying. Council’s grades started dropping, he started hanging out in the streets, smoking marijuana at age 13, and ended up dropping out of school in the eighth grade.
Dr. Grey testified that she interviewed 30 people who were at Dobbs during the late 1990s and early 2000s, including staff members and students. Overall, she learned it was a facility where students faced emotional abuse, sexual abuse and physical violence.
Gray’s statements were supported by police reports, hospital records, and a trial where a male student was convicted for sexually abusing another male student. There was also evidence showing a 28-year-old female staff member got pregnant by a student who was 16 years old.
We also learned of Council’s personal experience at the facility where he first entered in 1999. He was about 14 years old at the time. He was sent there for possession of cocaine with the intent to sell.
He would later go a second time in 2000 for possession of marijuana with intent to sell. Dobb stays ranged from 13 to 14 months.
Dr.Grey interviewed Council about what he remembers the facility being like. He recalled all the violence and also discussed sexual abuse by staff.
Council told her he was raped by a male staff member and had a sexual relationship with another female staff member. Several former students gave testimony about the same female staff member stating she would come on to them sexually.
Council would eventually get out of Dobbs at age 16 but Dr.Grey described his life as being unstable. She said he was homeless, living in motels, staying with friends. He did stay a short time with his mother Beth, but it didn’t work out due to household disagreements.
At age 18, Council ended up having a child named Brandon Jr.. He stayed in the child’s life for only a short time. Dr.Grey said Council’s real father, Charles Council, also decided to come around after Brandon Jr. was born. Charles had been in-and-out the hospital and finally wanted to be in his son’s life. But, He would go on to die in 2015.
The court also learned that the CresCom trial and North Carolina robberies were not Council’s only crimes. He was also declared a habitual felon in 2010 at the age of 25 due to engaging in recidivism since 2002. He was given six to eight years for those charges.
Defense Attorneys also presented a Stipulation document Council signed on October 27, 2017 pleading guilty to his current charges and agreeing to serve two life sentences for the CresCom bank robbery and double murder.
Count on News13 for updates from the trial as they develop.
FLORENCE, SC (WBTW) – Brandon Council’s defense called sixteen witness Monday to testify about his background as the penalty phase of his murder trial continues.
Multiple witnesses testified that Brandon’s mother, Beth Spell, gave birth to him at a young age. They say Beth’s pregnancy was an “embarrassment” for the Spell family due to their involvement in the church. Spell’s mother, Betsy, was Council’s primary caregiver. The family would stay at Betsy’s home on Washington Street in Wilson, North Carolina which is known for drug-dealing, prostitution, and more.
Council’s step-aunt Sherri Lynn testified that Council’s mother never really showed him affection or interest. Beth’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy was a negative topic for Council’s grandmother, who was heavily involved in a church in Wilson.
Nevertheless, Lynn said Betsy took all responsibilities for Council along with making him attend church, monitoring his performance in school and keeping him away from trouble on Washington Street.
But, Betsy died from pancreatic cancer when Council was around 11 years old. Lynn said Betsy’s death impacted him significantly because she was his “mother.”
Council’s former sixth-grade teacher at Toisnot Middle School in Wilson also testified, saying she never had any issues with him and he always had above-average grades.
The defense also called Sharon Walker to the stand. She claimed to be the mother of one of Council’s childhood friends. She recalled Council coming to her home, saying “he was very impressionable, never rude, always respectable, I never had any problems with him.” She said Council started living in her garage without her knowing shortly after his grandmother’s death.
“He was really young to be homeless and that kind of disturbed me,” she added. Walker didn’t press charges and called Council’s uncle to come get him.
Following Walker’s testimony, the defense shifted their focus to a Dobbs Youth Development Center where Council attended as a minor during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Defense Attorneys said they discovered the center was a “rough” place for children.
Doctor Susan McCarter, a juvenile justice professional for North Carolina, said juvenile training center’s in the state had insufficient group treatment, family treatment and one-on-one therapy sessions during those years. The defense presented an audit completed by North Carolina’s Juvenile Justice System in the early 2000s that defended Dr.McCarter’s statements.
In the audit, North Carolina Juvenile Justice Spokesperson Billy Lasiter said,” Training schools used to be more focused on incarcerating kids in a prison environment.”
Six former Dobbs students testified about their experience’s at the center. All of them are now incarcerated within the North Carolina prison system.
Quinten Wingate was the first man to testify and claimed responsibility for introducing Council to marijuana on Washington Street. Council was only about 13 at the time.
“He was a soft kid. He wasn’t a street person,” Wingate said.
Kenneth Cox followed Wingates testimony, and said he also spent time on Washington Street. Cox was put in Dobbs three times, and said “It’s not a good place for young men to be reformed.”
According to Cox, Dobbs staff would encourage fights instead of preventing them.
“We called Dobb’s Gladiator School back then because it’s like you’re at constant war with somebody,” he said.
Other men testified that they were sexually abused by Dobbs staff members and other students. “It messed me up in the long run,” said Demetrius McMillan, a former Dobbs student.
McMillan said he was raped by another student, but no one believed him when he told staff. Instead, he said they placed him in a segregation room with the man who abused him. There was also a night officer who McMillan testified would take him out his room around 2 A.M. to sexually abuse him.
“I would rather be in prison than to be at Dobbs,” McMillan said.
Several of the men said there were staff members who knew what was happening, but believe they feared losing their jobs or retaliation,
“You get beat up, sexually harassed, everything. It just wasn’t fit for kids to be at,” said Larry Johnson, another former Dobbs student.
The defense had a total of 16 witnesses on Monday. Trial will continue on Tuesday.
Count on News13 for updates as Council’s trial continues.