Criminal court returns with murder trial

Eighth Circuit Court in Laurens County is hosting the first jury criminal trial in South Carolina since state courtrooms were shuttered in April due to COVID-19.

Lutavious Elmore

The murder trial of Lutavious Denard Elmore, 32, of Laurens, got underway Monday with 8th Circuit Judge Donald B. Hocker presiding.

Elmore is charged with the 2018 stabbing death of Sergio Mandez Lindsey of Greenville. He was 26.

According to the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office, Elmore allegedly stabbed Lindsey during an altercation involving a woman on Easy Road in Laurens.

Elmore was arrested on Oct. 27, 2018 and booked into the Johnson Detention Center on murder charges. He was denied bond and is also charged with third-degree assault and battery, possession of a weapon during a violent crime, domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature, kidnapping and burglary.

With the jury selected and the defense laying out its case in court Tuesday, jurors and observers were required to wear masks and practice social distancing during the trial.

South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald W. Beatty ordered that all courthouses in the state enforce the wearing of “a mask or other facial covering.”

“In order to protect the health and safety of members of the public and judicial staff, and in order to maintain the operation of the South Carolina Unified Judicial System, I find it now necessary to issue this Order to effectuate a statewide mandate requiring a mask or other facial covering in county and and municipal courthouses statewide,” Beatty wrote in the judicial order.

Beatty was in attendance for Elmore’s trial during Monday and Tuesday’s sessions.

The order applies to those employed or conducting business in or visiting county and municipal courthouses, meaning masks are required for everyone at Laurens County’s Hillcrest Judicial Complex, which houses 8th Circuit courts, magistrate courts as well as county administrative offices.

Those entering courthouses will also be screened for fevers using an infrared or temporal thermometer, the order read. Social distancing rules must also be adhered to, according to the order.

Eighth Circuit Solicitor David Stumbo released the following statement on the return to the courtroom Tuesday evening:

“We are pleased to announce that Monday afternoon a jury of twelve Laurens County citizens was selected for a homicide trial this week.  This marks the first trial by jury held in the State of South Carolina since such trials were suspended by Court Administration in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our prosecutors and the public defenders will be presenting this case in the main courtroom at the Laurens County complex at Hillcrest Square throughout the week.
“As Solicitor for the 8th circuit, I am very thankful for the hard work and creativity of our judiciary, including (S.C. Supreme Court) Chief Justice Don Beatty, our circuit’s Chief Administrative Judge Don Hocker, Laurens Clerk of Court Lynn Lancaster, and all other court staff involved.  The plan that they have implemented has allowed the critical work of jury trials to resume this week while also ensuring to the greatest extent possible the health and safety of all involved parties, particularly our citizen jurors who have been summoned to the Courthouse this week.  We are hopeful that Laurens County and the 8th Circuit will lead the way in working toward the resumption of normal court operations across South Carolina in the coming months.” 

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