S.C. governor orders prosecutors to review early prison releases after murderer was let out

The move follows the quiet release of a convicted murderer more than a decade before the end of his sentence when a state judge approved a court order right before he retired


By Bristow Marchant
The State

RIDGEVILLE, S.C. — Local prosecutors must submit any requests for the early release of prisoners to the state attorney general for review, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster told solicitors’ offices across the state on Thursday.

The move is meant to tighten oversight of the process by which inmates in state prisons can be released early. It follows the quiet release of a convicted murderer earlier this year more than a decade before the end of his sentence when a state judge approved a court order right before he retired.

The release of Jeroid Price in March sparked controversy when it was reported by the media. The S.C. Supreme Court later voided the agreement between the Richland County solicitor and Price’s defense attorney, state Rep. Todd Rutherford, that allowed Price to be released from prison. Price, who fled the state, was eventually captured in New York after an FBI stakeout in July, 77 days after he left prison behind.

In his letter, McMaster directed that any early release motions be reviewed by the attorney general before another prisoner can get out. He said the actions in the Price case had “defied the law and logic.”

“In light of our recent experience with the Jeroid Price matter, it is imperative that the State review any previous (and potentially similar) early release orders to confirm compliance with the applicable law, and I appreciate Attorney General Wilson’s ongoing assistance in doing so,” McMaster wrote.

“However, after-the-fact awareness of these incidents alone is not sufficient. Not only to protect public safety but also to restore the public’s confidence in the judicial system and the Rule of Law, the State must do more to ensure that, if any inmates are to have their sentences reduced, only those who are legitimately worthy (and legally eligible) should receive this benefit — and only after following the statutorily prescribed process and complying with the Victims’ Rights Act.”

Price, who was serving a 35-year sentence for murder in the 2002 death of Carl Smalls, was released nearly 16 years early in mid-March under an order signed by Circuit Judge Casey Manning. Smalls, originally a defensive lineman on the University of South Carolina football team, had recently transferred to the University of North Carolina when he was shot and killed during a fraternity party at the VooDoo Club in Columbia.

Price’s release was agreed to by 5th Circuit Solicitor Byron Gipson and Rutherford, a Richland County Democrat. The order cited Price’s “substantial assistance” to law enforcement as the basis for his release. But three of five Supreme Court justices found Price should not have been released early, and excoriated the process by which the order came about: Price was released without a public hearing and apparently without a public record of his release being generated.

“Shortly after Jeroid Price’s early release first came to light, I noted the need to determine whether that matter represented an isolated incident or whether other inmates had received court-approved sentence reductions without the public’s knowledge and without the constitutionally required notice to victims,” McMaster said, noting the S.C. Department of Corrections identified 26 similar incidents since the beginning of 2022.

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