Trial begins for murder suspect in Sunhouse robberies

Grand Strand

The trial begins Tuesday morning for one of three men facing murder and armed charges in the 2015 Sunhouse convenience store robberies. 

James Daniels faces murder and armed robbery charges along with his brother, McKinley Daniels and Jerome Jenkins. The three are accused of killing Bala Paruchuri and Trisha Stull, both Sunhouse employees. 

WBTW’s Maggie Lorenz will be live tweeting from the courtroom as the judge ordered no live streaming of the trial. 

Jury selection happened Monday morning for James Daniels’ trial, narrowing a pool of hundreds down to 12 and two alternates.

That was followed by pre-trial motions, which basically means deciding what evidence can be used during the trial. It also gives both sides an idea of what they’re dealing with. 

The Sunhouse murders happened at two different Sunhouse convenience stores weeks apart. On January 2, 2015, Paruchuri was shot to death inside the Sunhouse store on Highway 905. Stull was killed on January 25 at the Sunhouse store on Cultra Street in Conway.

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Daniels is charged in connection to those and also charged in connection with the armed robbery of the Scotchman store on Lake Arrowhead Road in North Myrtle Beach, which took place hours apart from the Conway Sunhouse incident. 

The state asked, and Judge Robert Hood agree, to join the Lake Arrowhead and Sunhouse cases together, saying there is a logical connection between the crimes. 

The judge then also had to decide if the two murders, which happened weeks apart, were related. 

“I find that based upon the similarities that I have stated that the videos are eerily, eerily similar,” Judge Hood said. “I mean, if you didn’t put the time stamps on them, and the victim in Red Bluff Road didn’t look different than the victim on Cultra Road, it would be, I mean they are eerily similar in the way that they look.”

Prosecutors portrayed James Daniels as the getaway driver during the robberies. The judge explained that the state must prove a combination of two things: that Daniels teamed up with the other two men to commit armed robbery and that murder was a “natural and probable” consequence of those acts planned. James Daniels’ mere presence cannot establish his guilt, according to the judge. 

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“Stated another way, James Daniels intent to rob the store with McKinley Daniels and Jerome Jenkins was a prerequisite for his liability for murder,” Judge Hood said. “The probative value of the prior armed robbery and murder is high, because the evidence tends to establish James Daniels’ intent to combine with Jerome Jenkins and McKinely Daniels to commit armed robbery and murder, which is an essential element of the ‘the hand of one is the hand of all.'”

Also discussed Monday was whether a letter, written by McKinley Daniels and confiscated in prison, can be used as evidence in the trial. 

In the letter, details of the crimes are discussed, and the defense argued against using the letter as evidence, saying Daniels never had a chance to reply and also that the defense cannot cross-examine McKinley. 

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The judge said the court will have to go through and pull out certain statements that are unusable. 

Day one of James Daniels’ trial begins Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m. at the Horry County Government and Justice Center. Count on News13 to bring you updates. 

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