Let's spend a bit of time talking about a defendant out of Georgetown County. This story came to us via a couple of different sources concerned with the direction taken by the 15th Circuit Solicitor in Georgetown County. It is encouraging to know there are folks involved in the process who will speak out when something is very, very wrong. This case involves solicitors with political ambitions, allegations of family connections to the SCHP and a young person drinking and driving which resulted in a death.
The defendant we will be discussing is James George Bencivengo. Back on 22 May, 2011 seventeen year old Bencivengo and two friends were tooling around Murrells Inlet in a Ford Expedition at 1:30 in the morning. They had been drinking and possibly smoking either marijuana or synthetic marijuana.
Feel free to ask the same questions about James Bencivengo you asked about Marley Lion. What was a seventeen year old doing driving around at 1:30 a.m. drinking and smoking weed?
Twenty-two year old Jacob Miller was enjoying his trip to Bike Week, riding south on the U.S. 17 bypass approaching Wachesaw Road. Jacob was on his motorcycle with his parents following on theirs. At that moment, seventeen year old Bencivengo decided to turn left from U.S. 17 to Wachesaw Road, failing to yield the right of way to oncoming traffic. According to one of the other teenagers in the vehicle, the passengers urged Bencivengo to hurry to beat the oncoming motorcycle, then told him to stop rather than turn in front of the bike. He turned slowly in front of Miller, then continued slowly some distance down the road after the impact.
At the time of this incident, Bencivengo is alleged to have been enrolled in an alcohol abuse class for juveniles. We thought it was so nice of the local news in Georgetown County to avoid printing his name in this incident simply because he was still at the tender age of seventeen. We couldn't find a single news story with his name in it, even after he was charged with Felony DUI Involving a Death and open container. Considering the fact that seventeen is the legal age to go to "big boy jail" in South Carolina and many other offenders that age are listed in news stories around the Lowcountry, this would imply the family might be "connected" in some way.
Or it could be due to the simple fact of the powers that be in that area trying to dress up the news to fit their agenda of doing away with Bike Week. So what if another "biker" was killed? Don't want to be killed by our drunk teenagers from Pawley's Island, don't show up for Bike Week.
Bencivengo was released on a $35,000 bond on the Felony DUI charge, which is still pending. We will get to that in a bit.
The open container ticket went before Magistrate Isaac Pyatt on 13 February, 2012. Bencivengo was found not guilty in a bench trial. Now, there was either an open container in that vehicle or there wasn't. We believe there was. The Highway Patrol says there was. The only way he could be found not guilty on this charge would be for one of the passengers to take the blame for that open container and for Judge Pyatt to buy that story. Apparently common sense isn't a requirement to be appointed to the magistrate's bench.
Recent developments have shown that the judge may not have been informed this charge was associated with a Felony DUI Involving Death. As a result, the family of Jacob Miller was not notified when the case was heard. As a result, the open container violation was determined by the court to be a victimless crime. Once the Miller family began to question the disposition of they case they were notified the case would be re-opened and sent back to General Sessions court for a jury trial.
We don't want to dash their hopes, but double jeopardy usually attaches once a judge has found someone not guilty. This may prevent the case from being sent back to GSC. We have been told if no witnesses were sworn and the judge just checked the box for not guilty it should not be an issue.
Good news. Just prior to publishing this post we double-checked our information and found the open container case had indeed been re-opened.
Bencivengo doesn't seem to be too shook up over his killing of Jacob Miller. While out on his $35,000 bond he continued on his path to thug-dom when was charged with Malicious Damage to Personal Property (vandalism) in April of 2012. He pled guilty in May before Judge Danny Furr. The judge fined him $1092.00 then suspended the fine. Another break.
Bencivengo was also charged with 3rd Degree Assault by Mob Resulting in Bodily Injury on 18 April, 2012. This charge is still pending and he is free on a $40,000 bond. He got a higher bond for causing an injury than he did for causing a death. Go figure.
So, in light of Bencivengo's continued criminal activities, why is it that the 15th Circuit Solicitor Greg Hembree and his Deputy Solicitor Scott Hixson are so keen to plead this Felony DUI Involving Death down to a simple reckless driving citation? Six points on his license, no license suspension and no jail time for driving around, drinking and killing an innocent motorcyclist. Sound fair? Sound like justice?
Here is Scott Hixson talking about how he wanted to be a prosecutor because he wanted to "do the right thing". Yeah, right.
Solicitor Greg Hembree is running as a Republican for State Senate District 28. Maybe at his next campaign appearance some enterprising reporter can ask him about the facts of this particular case and inquire about the desire to plead the case down to reckless driving. We hope Scott Hixson doesn't have any designs on winning that 15th Circuit Solicitor gig if Hembree wins his election.
Hixson has made comments that the Bencivengo family is connected to someone in the South Carolina Highway Patrol. This causes us to wonder who at the Patrol, if anyone, is pushing for this kid to be given a break.
Apparently there was some GPM found during a search of Bencivengo's vehicle. GPM is police talk for 'green plant material' and usually refers to marijuana. Bencivengo blew a .04 on the breathalyzer and his urinalysis allegedly came back negative. Synthetic marijuana would not show up in a urinalysis test for THC and it's metabolites. That is why synthetic marijuana is so popular. As far as we know there was no blood drawn from Bencivengo by law enforcement. Blood draws are usually standard in a case of Felony DUI.
Also found in the vehicle was an open twelve pack with several beers missing. Has anyone at the Highway Patrol or the Solicitor's Office followed up on where that might have come from? Somehow we doubt it.
One of the passengers in Bencivengo's vehicle told officers Jacob Miller was, as most, doing the speed limit. She stated Bencivengo was driving erratically, very slowly and she even asked Bencivengo if he wanted her to drive. Bencivengo told her he was fine.
This witness also refused to give investigators the location of the residence they had departed from in Pawley's Island. She initially stated there was no party there. When asked why she wouldn't tell officers the address she said she didn't want the parents at that location to get in trouble for allowing minors to drink. The Trooper did not push the issue.
The Patrol initially failed to test the green plant material when Deputy Solicitor Scott Hixson allegedly advised the Trooper there was no need to test it because this case wouldn't be going to trial. He told the Miller family Bencivengo was "distraught" about the incident.
Why would a solicitor make comments like that? Why would he tell a Trooper not to test evidence? Hixson has told the Miller family he doesn't think he can win this case. It sounds more like he doesn't want to win it.
Let's review South Carolina law. Maybe we can glean some information about what kind of prosecutor Hixson is.
Felony DUI - 56-5-2945 states:
So, do the elements fit? Bencivengo WAS under the influence as we know he was tested at .04 on his Breathalyzer test. In the State of South Carolina there is a zero tolerance law for those under the legal drinking age of twenty-one. Bencivengo was seventeen.
Bencivengo DID drive a motor vehicle, and, while driving that vehicle, committed an act forbidden by law, to wit - failure to yield the right of way and violation of the zero tolerance law for underage persons.
Bencivengo also neglected his duty under South Carolina law to show due regard for the safety of others and was in fact negligent in operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and possibly drugs. He was also negligent in failing to yield the right of way.
Bencivengo, through his violations of South Carolina law and through his negligence, caused the death of Jacob Miller.
We don't know about the rest of you citizens, but it sure sounds to us like all the elements of the crime, as defined by the statute, have been met. This should be an open and shut case. Combine these obvious conclusions with the videos of the roadside field sobriety tests, Bencivengo passing out in a police cruiser and the scientific evidence obtained during the breath test and even a first year law student could win this case. A monkey with only half a brain could prosecute this case while flinging poo and win a conviction. So, from this information we can infer Hembree and Hixson are are not up to par with a first year law student or a monkey with half a brain.
So why are Hembree and Hixson telling the Miller family they can't win this case? Why are Hembree and Hixson ignoring the Miller family's requests for information and explanations? Why are Hembree and Hixson not responding to letters written to them by the Miller family? Why are Hembree and Hixson, two Republicans who claim to be pro law and order, trying to help Bencivengo weasel out of this very serious charge of taking another human life while under the influence of alcohol?
Are Hembree and Hixson the type of solicitors you want handling criminal cases and representing the citizens of Georgetown County? Do you really thing Hembree should win an election to the State Senate? Only you folks in Georgetown County and District 28 can make that decision.
Based on the comments and actions of Hixson and Hembree the Miller family has declared they have no confidence in the 15th Circuit Solicitor's Office to prosecute this case. We agree. The Millers have written to Governor Nikki Haley and other state officials and received zero responses. They wrote to the Director of Public Safety about the lack of testing of the green plant material and were advised the substance should have been tested and would, in fact, be tested at his express direction. As of this date the Millers have not been informed of the results of that test in spite of requesting the information from Hembree and Hixson.
We suggest a letter and e-mail campaign to the office of State Attorney General Alan Wilson in which the Millers and the rest of us citizens recommend he step in and appoint a solicitor from another circuit to prosecute this case. Hembree and Hixson have proven they have no desire to go forward with this case.
Our State Troopers are generally straight arrows. I'm sure if we put the Troopers in this case on the witness stand they will testify Hixson instructed them not to test the green plant material and informed them the case would not be going to trial. We are sure the Millers wouldn't mind documenting the demoralizing interactions they have had with Hixson.
Not only did the Millers lose their son, but they had to watch it happen. Then they had to perform CPR in an attempt to save their son's life while his drunken teenage killer looked on. On top of all that, they have had to deal with a solicitor and deputy solicitor telling them about the Bencivengo family connections to the SCHP, how distraught the poor killer is and their desire to let him plead guilty to nothing more than a simple six point traffic ticket for 'reckless driving'.
The Millers are furious. We are enraged. How about you? We would like to ask all of our readers to take a stand on this case and bring it to the forefront in Hembree's race for State Senate and any race Hixson might run in. We ask that you write both of them and demand an explanation for the actions reported here. We further request that you write, e-mail and call State Attorney General Alan Wilson and demand a prosecutor from outside the 15th Judicial Circuit be appointed to replace the obviously incompetent Hembree and Hixson. Any prosecutor who lends more support to defendants than to victims and their families probably should NOT be writing laws in Columbia.
We suggest the Attorney General might want to take his new Public Integrity Unit to the 15th Circuit Solicitors Office pretty darn quick.