- Associated Press - Monday, January 12, 2015

ORANGEBURG, S.C. (AP) - A white ex-police chief charged with murdering an unarmed black man in a small South Carolina town must be convicted because the killing happened after he delayed serving an arrest warrant for seven weeks in an effort to show off for his law enforcement friends, a prosecutor told a jury Monday.

But a defense attorney said ex-Eutawville Police Chief Richard Combs feared for his life because he was about to be run over, and was authorized to use deadly force when he shot Bernard Bailey in May 2011.

During closing arguments, prosecutor David Pascoe said Combs frequently changed his story to match the evidence and was confident he would never be held responsible for killing Bailey because he was a police officer.

“He thought he got away with it because he wears a badge. Prove him wrong,” Pascoe said in a passionate, hour-long argument during which he slammed the gun used in the killing on a table and had an assistant sit in the witness chair so he could carefully recreate the shooting.

Defense attorney Wally Fayssoux said the case hinges on the three seconds in which Combs was trapped in the door of Bailey’s pickup as it rolled in reverse, not the seven weeks that it took Combs to serve a warrant on Bailey.

“Does he want to go home to his family?” Fayssoux said of Combs. “Or does he hope the truck doesn’t roll over the top of him?’

Fayssoux said he expected theatrics from the prosecutor because his case was weak and the facts were in Combs’ favor.

Jurors will choose between murder and voluntary manslaughter. Murder carries 30 years to life in prison without parole. Voluntary manslaughter carries two to 30 years in prison, and means Bailey’s killing was illegal but happened in the heat of the moment.

Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson authorized the voluntary manslaughter option Monday.

The seeds of the fatal confrontation were sown seven weeks earlier when Combs stopped Bailey’s daughter for a broken taillight. The daughter called her father, and Bailey came to the side of the road.

Sometime later, the chief secured a warrant for obstruction of justice, but waited several weeks to serve it until Bailey came to Town Hall the day before his daughter’s trial. Pascoe asserted that Combs wanted to make a display of arresting Bailey, when he could have instead asked for help from sheriff’s deputies.

After Combs told Bailey he was being arrested for obstruction of justice, witnesses said Bailey left Combs’ office and went for his truck. Combs followed.

Pascoe said Combs could have stepped away from the truck door, but instead stood there and fired three shots into Bailey. The prosecutor said several things made it clear the truck was stopped and Bailey was trying to give up: The victim’s foot was on the brake, and three shell casings were found close together along with Combs’ dropped handcuffs.

But Combs’ lawyer said all that mattered was that the chief feared for his life during the three seconds it took to shoot. He said Combs had no pepper spray or Taser, and had no option but his gun. Fayssoux urged jurors to have courage and go against a zealous prosecutor who was seeking his own revenge and not the truth.

Jurors on Monday afternoon asked to view video of the taillight incident. They also asked to hear a recording of a radio call that Combs made after the shooting, and asked for definitions of murder, manslaughter and malice. The judge granted the requests.

Eutawville suspended Combs after the shooting and dismissed him several months later. The town reached a $400,000 wrongful death settlement with Bailey’s family.

Although Combs was white and Bailey was black, race hasn’t been front and center of the case. Pascoe contends Combs was angry at Bailey for just trying to show him up.

“If I’m wrong, find him not guilty,” Pascoe said. “Give him back his badge, give him back his gun and let him pull somebody else’s daughter over.”

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP

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