CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Hundreds of families in the Lowcountry are still waiting for justice from the courts after losing a loved one.
In the Ninth Judicial Circuit, which includes Charleston and Berkeley counties, there are about 19,000 total cases pending. According to Ninth Circuit Solicitor, Scarlett Wilson, there are almost 300 pending homicide cases.
That means the cases are still open, and for many, that means they have been unable to get any closure after losing a loved one.
Crystal Williams lost her friend Ebony Myers three years ago.
“I can tell that she cared about others, and it really drew me to her,” Williams said.
According to police, her husband Romane Clare shot and killed her in North Charleston.
“You hear about tragedy happening — but when you realize it was somebody you knew and was close to, it hits you a whole lot harder,” said Williams.
Crystal Williams is best friends with Ebony’s mother.
She said waiting three years for the case to go to trial is making it hard for Ebony’s mother to find closure and heal.
“Once it goes to trial, she is going to have to relive that trauma all over again,” Williams said.
Williams said the case is scheduled to go to court next month, but hundreds of other Lowcountry families are still waiting.
Solicitor Wilson said while they have hundreds of pending homicide cases, they have just a third of the amount of court time to prosecute the cases.
“If you do that math, it just doesn’t add up, I mean you can’t clear all of those,” said Wilson.
She said the backlog is a decade in the making. A Supreme Court decision took the authority to set court dates away from prosecutors in 2012.
“We started sooner than many places with legitimate full court control and we suffered for it,” Wilson said. “That’s not a slam at anybody – it’s a process that wasn’t efficient.”
The pandemic made things worse. Problems like a backlog at the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) for DNA and hours of bodycam footage that lawyers must sift through are contributing to the problem.
“It’s a problem everywhere,” said Wilson. “It’s worse here.”
Solicitor Wilson said it is an urgent situation, and she wants to help the court alleviate the backlog.
“I can’t make them, but I’m hoping they will let me put a mix of old and new cases — newer and old cases — so that we can attack this docket from both ends,” she said. “Otherwise, defendants will just ride the docket.”
It’s an ideal place for some defendants, but a situation that is hurting victim’s families.
“Some survivors want to go to court because they feel like that might provide closure to them,” said Meg Wallace, the Associate Director of Clinical Operations for MUSC’s National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center.
Wallace helps support those who have lost loved ones through MUSC’s Homicide Support Group.
She said if cases take took long to move through court, it can set survivors back.
“Sometimes it can be difficult for them to feel like they have more support when those processes get delayed further,” said Wallace. “It also kind of extends that grief trajectory for some folks.”
That grief is something Crystal Williams wants the courts to consider as she waits for loved ones accused killer to stand trial.
“I just want the judicial system to know time is of the essence,” she said. “Justice needs to be served in a timely manner.”
Solicitor Wilson said there may be a possible solution in store.
She said she has been working with the Supreme Court to handle the decade-long issue, and new guidance or case management could be coming within the next 30 days.