- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

ORANGEBURG, S.C. (AP) - The attorney for a white former police chief charged with murder in the shooting death of an unarmed black man asked a judge to move the trial Monday, saying his client can’t get a fair hearing in the rural South Carolina county where the 2011 slaying occurred.

Attorney Wally Fayssoux of Greenville said the case has nothing to do with race, yet he said publicity surrounding the trial - after weeks of protests nationwide over the killings of blacks by white law officers - makes it impossible for Richard Combs to get a fair trial.

“It is incredible the amount of publicity that has come out about this case,” the attorney said, adding that he has been amazed by “the rank inaccuracy of the facts.” One thing he called erroneous was a report that his client was shouting racial slurs at the black man who was shot.

Fayssoux said that while a white man and a black man were involved, the incident could have just as easily occurred between two whites or two blacks.

When Combs, 38, was indicted last month the case of drew comparisons to the shooting of a black man in Ferguson, Missouri, and the chokehold death of a black man by police officers in in New York.

Combs, the former chief and sole police officer in the small town of Eutawville, faces 30 years to life if convicted of murder in the death of Bernard Bailey. The two men argued after Bailey questioned a traffic ticket Combs had given Bailey’s daughter.

Fayssoux said if anyone in the county has opened a paper or gone online in recent weeks, they know about the case.

Jury selection begins Tuesday. Circuit Court Judge Edgar Dixon is expected to decide whether to move the trial after potential jurors are questioned about what they have heard about the case.

The shooting happened in May 2011 when Combs was still police chief. Bailey’s daughter received a traffic ticket from Combs for a broken taillight and called her father to the scene. Bailey and Combs argued at the time and the police chief later got an arrest warrant for Bailey for obstruction.

When Bailey went to Town Hall a few days later to argue about his daughter’s ticket, the chief tried to arrest the a 6-foot-6 former prison guard.

Bailey went back to his truck and Combs tried to get inside to turn off the ignition. The two briefly fought, and Combs shot Bailey, 54, twice in the chest, prosecutors said.

Combs said he was tangled in Bailey’s steering wheel and feared for his life if Bailey drove away.

Last August Bailey’s family reached a $400,000 wrongful death settlement with Eutawville, which is 50 miles southeast of Columbia.

Combs was placed on leave after the shooting, and the town dismissed him six months later. He is currently free on $150,000 bail.

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