HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — The South Carolina Supreme Court published an opinion Wednesday morning upholding the death sentence for a man convicted of killing two convenience store employees in separate robberies in 2015.
The opinion, published Tuesday regarding a writ of certiorari from Horry County Circuit Court Judge Robert Hood that was first heard on Oct. 12, regards the death sentence of Jerome Jenkins Jr. The opinion consolidates a direct appeal and a mandatory review of his death sentence.
On Jan. 2, 2015 James Daniels entered the Sunhouse convenience store in Longs to scout the location out for Jerome Jenkins and James’ brother, McKinley Daniels, to rob it. James Daniels left the store, and Jenkins and McKinley Daniels went in masked and with pistols.
Both men shot at an employee, who then ran into a bathroom. Jenkins is accused of following him and shooting through the bathroom door. The employee was injured when shattered glass from bottles hit his head.
McKinley Daniels then took money from the cash register, and both he and Jenkins fired at the clerk when they left. Bala Paruchuri, who was manning the register, was shot and killed.
The men had robbed two other stores in Jan. 2015, according to evidence at trial, and Jenkins had shot and killed Trisha Stull, another store clerk, at a different Sunhouse store.
Jenkins admitted he was guilty at the trial, but believed he was unable to plead guilty beforehand, according to court documents. His lawyers also claimed that an argument that Jenkins had attacked and threw feces at correctional officers’ faces during previous incarcerations, and therefore would be dangerous in the future, should not have been presented.
The team also points to a forensic psychiatry expert who had diagnosed Jenkins with mental health disorders, and testified in court that Jenkins was “under the influence” of the Daniels brothers.
Jenkins claims that the court made seven errors — including that a Myrtle Beach Police Department correctional officer who had received evidence about the case was allowed to be on the jury.
His more “compelling” argument, according to the South Carolina Supreme Court, is that he asked the trial court in March 2019 if it was legal for the prosecution to deny him a guilty plea and instead force him to go on trial. In a transcript included in the opinion, he asked if pleading guilty to a death sentence meant he’d be on death row. When the court said that he would, he responded “Not a chance.”
“We wish to be very clear this was error by the trial court,” the opinion reads.
However, the South Carolina Supreme Court’s opinion, written by Justice Cannon Few, said that the discussion happened nine weeks before the trial and had plenty of time to be corrected. Few wrote that Jenkins’ lawyers had at least three opportunities to object to those comments, and that it’s unthinkable that his lawyers didn’t have at least one conversation about his right to a trial by jury.
“This is particularly true in this case, where we know the question of a guilty plea was very much on the mind of Jenkins and his lawyers,” the opinion states. “In those conversations, it is equally inconceivable counsel did not explain to Jenkins that the trial court would be required by law to consider both death and life as options for his sentence, and to do so with an open mind without preconceptions as to which sentence the evidence would warrant the trial court impose.”