A man convicted of murder in South Carolina was recently released early under unusual circumstances, and now the state Supreme Court will consider whether to have him recommitted to state custody.
Way back in 2003, Jeroid Price was convicted of murdering University of Carolina football player Carl Smalls in a nightclub in Columbia, South Carolina. The incident was considered gang-related violence since Price, an admitted member of the Bloods, had attacked Smalls, who was loosely affiliated with the Crips. For the crime, Price was sentenced to serve 35 years in prison, and South Carolina law requires that those convicted of murder serve a minimum of 30 years.
"No person sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment for thirty years to life pursuant to this section is eligible for parole or any early release program, nor is the person eligible to receive any work credits, education credits, good conduct credits, or any other credits that would reduce the mandatory minimum term of imprisonment for thirty years to life required by this section," the state statute says.
However, just last month, Price was released from prison, having served just 19 years of his 35-year sentence and still more than a decade short of the 30-year minimum sentence imposed on him by law.
Early reports about Price's release initially focused on the judge who signed off on it. Judge Casey Manning of the Fifth Judicial Circuit Court agreed to free Price just one day before he retired from the bench. The chief judge presiding over Manning never approved the release, as required by state law.
However, the latest reports about the case have now focused on another detail: the involvement of former prison guard, Asia Love. Love worked for the South Carolina Department of Corrections from 2006 until 2011 and was employed at Lieber Correctional Institution in Dorchester County when Price was an inmate there.
In a letter for a hearing held for Price in 2019, Love wrote that Price had come to the rescue of Sally Fowler, another female corrections officer at Lieber, in 2010. Love claimed in the letter that another prisoner had escaped from his cell and threatened to attack Fowler with a broomstick. Price allegedly intervened and restrained the prisoner before he could harm Fowler.
Fowler did not provide an account of the incident in the 2019 hearing, and Love admitted she did not witness the alleged attack herself. She claimed that Fowler later told her about it and identified Price as her rescuer.
Now, some are calling into question the veracity of Love's account of the attack on Fowler, especially in light of some other allegations. A state DOC investigative file from 2012 described Love as Price's "girlfriend" and claimed that the two met at Lieber prison. The document also indicated that after Love left Lieber as an employee, she attempted to return as a visitor for Price. On the visitor's application, Love claimed to be Price's sister and failed to identify herself as a former Lieber prison guard. Her application was denied.
Though Love may have had a possible conflict of interest in the case, she is not the only person to have claimed that Price helped a prison guard in a time of need. Fellow former Lieber inmate Larry Benjamin, who also served time for murder, claimed that Price saved a prison guard from an attack in 2017.
The testimonies of Love and Benjamin likely contributed greatly to Price's release, as Judge Manning cited Price's "substantial assistance" to law enforcement as the main reason for giving his approval.
State Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Richland), who is also Price's attorney, downplayed the significance of the affidavits submitted by Love and Benjamin and instead noted that Price was instrumental in apprehending a dangerous inmate who had escaped from prison. DOC officials confirmed that in 2017, Price alerted someone outside the prison that Jimmy Lee Causey, convicted of kidnapping and bank robbery, had just escaped from a maximum-security facility in South Carolina and was then on the lam in Texas. Price even indicated where authorities might find him. Officials said that prison guards had not yet discovered Causey's absence, so Price's information was key in locating and rearresting the escaped convict.
Rutherford also defended Love and Benjamin's anecdotes regarding Price's alleged heroism. "Say what you want, I have no doubt to their authenticity," Rutherford insisted. "These incidents really did happen."
Still, prosecutors are outraged that the Attorney General's Office was not informed about Price's early release — nor was the family of Carl Smalls, the true victims of Price's criminal past.
"I was just devastated," said Carl Smalls Jr., Carl's father. "They weren't going to say nothing; it was a done deal. 'We're the law, this is what we did, and you folks deal with it.'"
"We just celebrated 20 years of [Smalls'] death, and a couple months afterward, now we're hearing that [Price is] free," added Andrianne Smalls, Carl's brother.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson (R) has called for a bench warrant to be issued for Price's arrest. Wilson also filed a motion for the state Circuit Court to release all documents relating to Price's release. Those records were sealed on March 15, the date that Judge Manning set Price free from a facility in New Mexico, where he was then serving his time.
On Wednesday, the South Carolina Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about whether Price was unlawfully released and should be rearrested.
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