Myrtle Beach murder trial wait times may drop from 2 years to 6 months

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A judge’s gavel is shown in a file photo. (Credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — The wait time for murder trials may be reduced by 18 months after the Fifteenth Judicial Court received a grant to fund a federal prosecutor who will exclusively work on gun cases in Myrtle Beach.

“I think that this will just be an amplifier to what has already been created, so it is basically like, I would say a force multiplier, almost like a sniper would be in war,” said Fifteenth Judicial Court Solicitor Jimmy Richardson. “It is only going to be one extra person, but moving that person to a position that can really open up a lot more court time here.”

The two-year, $265,000 grant was announced last year by the United States Department of Justice under the federal Operation Legend. The prosecutor will try Myrtle Beach cases in federal court, which Richardson said will make caseloads lighter for the Fifteenth Judicial Court. 

“This courtroom is very crowded,” he said. “The federal courtroom is not crowded, at all.”

Horry County sees 10,000 warrants a year, according to Richardson. Statewide, the federal system has about 400.

“It doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s 10,000 warrants handled by 22, 23 attorneys, so huge caseloads,” Richardson said. 

While he doesn’t want to overload the federal courts within the state, he said carefully-selected cases opens up time at the local level. 

He said the local crime typically involves gangs, violence and guns — three areas the grant focuses on. The backlog on murder cases was at least two years. Richardson said that wait time was before the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the court system.

“You can literally be up in front of a jury within six months in federal court, they do not get to bond out, which is a big incentive for us,” he said.

While the organization received the grant six months ago, and it does already have a prosecutor in mind, the process has been delayed as the state gets a new U.S. Attorney. After that, the candidate will still need to undergo interviews and background checks.

“We are sitting on ready, and the money is being held for the time that we can send him up there,” Richardson said. 

The prosecutor is currently with the Fifteenth Judicial Court and will be moved to Columbia to become what Richardson referred to as a “pivot person.” 

The grant will allow the Fifteenth Judicial Court to hire an additional attorney since the existing prosecutor’s salary will then be paid by the grant.

After the two-year period for the grant ends, Richardson said he hopes the results will be successful enough that either there will be federal money allocated to continue the program, or that Richardson can approach the county council to ask for funding.

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