Jury Deadlocks in S.C. Church Arson Case Involving Former Pastor

October 16, 2006

A mistrial has been declared in South Carolina in the case of a former pastor accused of trying to burn down his own Summerville church.

A Dorchester County jury deliberated Harold E. Hunter’s fate for nearly 10 hours over two days before the judge ruled Friday they were hopelessly deadlocked.

Hunter, 58, was charged with arson in the fire that destroyed Bethel AME Church in Summerville in April 2005.

Prosecutor David Pascoe said he will try Hunter again and would like to try Hunter’s wife, Patricia, at the same time. She faces similar charges. If convicted, each could face up to 25 years in prison.

The jury was deadlock 10-2 for acquittal, one female juror told The (Charleston) Post and Courier.

The juror, who did not want to give her name, told the newspaper that jurors didn’t think Hunter was innocent, but instead felt like police and prosecutors hadn’t conclusively linked him to starting the fire.

The Hunters were arrested four days after the church burned to the ground following a series of unexplained fires and vandalism attacks over a 10-day period in April.

Prosecutors said Harold Hunter was trying to build a new church and did not want to be transferred to another AME church in a rural part of Dorchester County.

Much of the prosecution’s evidence was circumstantial, like clothes and footwear found soaked in bleach in the sink of the parsonage house after the fire. Lab tests later detected flammable liquid residue on them, either gas or kerosene.

But Hunter’s lawyer Kenneth Cooper said the items may have gotten the residue on them when the couple walked through the church after some of the earlier attacks.

Pascoe said arson cases are among the toughest to prove because they rarely involve witnesses.

Hunter’s original $50,000 bond has been restored and he was released from jail to wait his next trial.


Information from: The Post and Courier,

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