A fired employee stormed into a manufacturing plant
about 3 p.m., killing four workers and wounding three others.
Was taken into custody after a SWAT team burst into a darkened office of
the R.E. Phelon Co. plant and found him vomiting on the floor.
Wise was a 6-foot-4 ex-con who weighed in at more than 250 pounds and
spent almost 15 years cleaning up his life, but still seemed to enjoy
intimidating co-workers by talking about his time in prison for breaking
into a house and robbing a bank.
After 4 years working at the Aiken Lawn Mower Ignition Plant, he was
fired after a violent confrontation with a supervisor.
He returned to the plant weeks later for revenge. Security guard Stanley
Vance watched Wise pull up in his car at the 3 p.m. shift change and,
armed with a semiautomatic pistol, Wise fired a bullet into Vance's
chest, yanked out the phone lines in the guard shack and told the guard
"I got things to do."
Entering through a side door, witnesses testified Wise went directly to
the personnel office and shot 56-year-old Charles Griffeth twice in the
back. Griffeth had fired Wise two months earlier.
Next up was the tool and dye area, where Wise had hoped to work. He
began firing his pistol at everyone around, killing 30-year-old David
Moore and 31-year-old Leonard Filyaw and wounding two others.
By then, panicked workers were scrambling to get out. Wise kept going,
finding 27-year-old Sheryl Wood, who got a quality control job he wanted.
He shot her in the back and leg, then put a bullet in her head. After
that, Wise's path seemed random. He fired several more shots, but no one
else was killed.
Investigators found four empty magazines, capable of holding eight
bullets each. Wise tried to commit suicide in the plant after the
shootings by drinking insecticide, but it only made him sick.
At trial, he refused to let his lawyers call any witnesses to ask the
jury to spare his life and has brushed off any attempts to appeal since
he was sent to Death Row.
State v. Wise, 359 S.C. 14, 596 S.E.2d 475 (S.C. 2004) (Direct
Lobster tail, french fries, cole slaw, banana pudding and milk.
South Carolina Department of
Inmate: Wise, Hastings Arthur
Inmate #: 00005074
County of Conviction: Aiken
Trial Judge: Cooper
Date Received: 02/02/01
Man who killed 4 in Aiken County plant put to death
By Jeffrey Collins - The State.com
Associated Press - Nov. 04, 2005
COLUMBIA, S.C. - Hastings Wise was put to death by
lethal injection Friday night for killing four workers at an Aiken
County plant in September 1997 out of revenge for being fired.
Wise made no final statement and never looked at the
victims' families or other witnesses. Instead, he stared at the ceiling
and took several deep breaths, pushing them out his cheeks, as the
lethal mix of three chemicals went into his veins. His rapid blinking
ended with his eyes wide open at about the same time his chest stopped
rising. It was about two minutes after the curtain to the death chamber
The official time of death was about 10 minutes later at 6:18
p.m. Wise, 51, tried to die the day of the killings, drinking
insecticide after the plant emptied. But it only made him violently ill.
"I saw Hastings die a while ago. But he didn't die a
violent death. He died easy. He went to sleep," said Tommy Thompson, the
father of one of the victims, David Moore. Thompson paused to gather
himself, then continued. "Should have been harsher. By the fact of what
he done, I think he should have suffered more," he said.
Prosecutors said Wise waited for the afternoon shift
change at the R.E. Phelon lawnmower ignition plant so he could make sure
all of his targets were there. He only shot people who he thought led to
his firing several weeks before or took jobs he wanted, authorities said.
At his trial, Wise never disputed his guilt and refused to let witnesses
testify for him as jurors chose between the death penalty and life in
prison. He then dropped his appeals and asked the state to carry out its
John Wood, whose daughter Sheryl was killed
execution-style as she tried to run away with a gunshot wound to her
leg, said he is glad Wise took responsibility. But he was disappointed
he had nothing to say before he died. "I was hoping he'd say, 'I'm
sorry,'" Wood said. "But it wasn't in him."
Psychiatrists testified Wise came back to the plant
several weeks after he was fired because he was angry and felt he was a
victim of racism. Wise was black and his four victims were white.
Wise started his rampage by shooting the guard at the
front gate in the chest and ripping out the phone lines before entering
the plant. Wise first killed the plant's personnel director, 56-year-old
Charles Griffeth, in his office because Griffeth had fired him. Two more
victims, 30-year-old Moore and 31-year-old Leonard Filyaw were killed in
the tool and dye area where Wise worked, prosecutors said.
victim, 27-year-old Sheryl Wood, got a job in quality control Wise
wanted, according to court testimony. Wise passed up dozens of employees
during his rampage, including Zach Bush. The two looked at each other
before Wise went to another area of the plant. At his trial, Wise said
he didn't shoot Bush because the two had gotten along.
Bush, now retired, witnessed the execution on behalf
of the employees at the plant. He said he struggles because Wise let him
live while he killed others, like his good friend Wood. "This beautiful
girl," Bush said, holding up a photo of Wood, "and these three men died
because he was angry." Bush said things at the plant and in Aiken will
never be the same. "I just pray God reached down and touched his heart
and saved him," Bush said.
Aiken County Sheriff Michael Hunt and prosecutor
Barbara Morgan also attended the execution, along with Wise's minister.
Wise did not want his lawyer or his family there, prison officials said.
Wise ate his final meal of lobster tail, french fries,
cole slaw, banana pudding and milk around 4 p.m., Corrections Department
spokesman John Barkley said.
Wise is the second person executed in South Carolina
this year and the 34th inmate put to death in the state since the death
penalty was reinstated in 1976.
Man to be executed Friday for plant shootings
By Jeffrey Collins - Myrtle Beach Online
The Associated Press - Sun, Oct. 30, 2005
COLUMBIA - Hastings Wise had scores to settle back in
1997 at the Aiken lawn mower ignition plant, where he had been fired
several weeks earlier, but the shootings would have to wait. First, he
wanted to see the country - visit the San Diego zoo, make it to Texas.
Wise, scheduled to die by lethal injection Friday for
killing four people he thought wronged him at the R.E. Phelon plant
eight years ago, got in his car before the killings and drove 9,000
miles in two weeks, according to a psychiatrist. "There are things he
wanted to see before he committed the crime he knew he was going to
commit," Dr. Richard Frierson said at a hearing last year.
to kill himself after shooting up the plant, but the insecticide he
drank only made him sick. Since then, he has asked to be held
responsible for the deaths, refusing to let his lawyers call witnesses
to save his life or file appeals on his behalf.
Former co-workers, neighbors, lawyers and court
records paint a picture of a man of contrasts. Wise was a regular
churchgoer who shared an apartment with a cat and a Shih Tzu named
Buster. He was a 6-foot-4 ex-con who weighed in at more than 250 pounds
and spent almost 15 years cleaning up his life but still seemed to enjoy
intimidating co-workers by talking about his time in prison for breaking
into a house and robbing a bank.
Wise felt he was a victim of racism all his life,
vividly recalling how as a child he felt singled out because he was
black when a 3-year-old white boy stepped on his foot, Frierson said.
Although Wise has never given a reason for the shooting rampage, being
fired from the job he held for four years may have combined with him
feeling he was mistreated because of his race to bring him to a violent
solution, the psychiatrist said. "He had been wronged, and an African-American
woman he had told to complain to plant management had subsequently been
fired," Frierson said.
The shootings at the plant were ruthless. Testimony
from the trial laid out Wise's plan to get revenge. Security guard
Stanley Vance watched Wise pull up in his car right at the 3 p.m. shift
change and got ready to give him a box of personal items.
armed with a semiautomatic pistol, fired a bullet into Vance's chest,
yanked out the phone lines in the guard shack and told the guard "I got
things to do." Entering through a side door, witnesses testified Wise
went directly to the plant's personnel office and shot 56-year-old
Charles Griffeth twice in the back. Griffeth had fired Wise about two
months earlier because of a violent confrontation with a co-worker and
his supervisor. Wise then pointed the gun at Griffeth's secretary and
tore out her telephone line before heading back in the plant, witnesses
Next up was the tool and dye area, where Wise had
hoped to work. There, other workers testified, he began firing his
pistol at everyone around, killing 30-year-old David Moore and 31-year-old
Leonard Filyaw and wounding two others By then, panicked workers were
scrambling to get out. Wise kept going, finding 27-year-old Sheryl Wood,
who got a quality control job he wanted. He shot her in the back and leg,
then put a bullet in her head in what prosecutor Barbara Morgan called
an execution-style killing. After that, Wise's path seemed random. He
fired several more shots, but no one else was killed. Investigators
found four empty magazines, capable of holding eight bullets each.
Man who killed four in Aiken County plant put to
Nov. 4, 2005
Hastings Wise has been put to death by lethal
injection for killing four people during a shooting rampage at an Aiken
County plant in September 1997.
Prison officials say Wise died Friday night at
6:18pm. Wise made no final statement and never looked at the victims'
families or other witnesses. He stared at the ceiling and took several
deep breaths as the lethal mix of three chemicals went into his veins.
His rapid blinking ended with his eyes wide open at about the same time
his chest stopped rising.
Prosecutors say Wise came back to the RE Phelon plant
several weeks after he was fired to get revenge on people who caused him
to lose his job or got jobs in the plant he wanted.
Inmate to be executed today
Associated Press - Fri, Nov. 04, 2005
Hastings Wise is scheduled to go to the death chamber
today to be executed by lethal injection at 6 p.m. for killing four
workers at an Aiken County plant in September 1997 as revenge for his
firing several weeks earlier.
Wise, who tried to commit suicide in the plant after
the shootings by drinking insecticide, has asked to die since his arrest.
He refused to let his lawyers call any witnesses to ask the jury to
spare his life and has brushed off any attempts to appeal since he was
sent to Death Row. “At almost every opportunity, he has expressed his
wish to die,” attorney Joseph Savitz said. “Once you get someone who’s
convinced they want to die, it’s difficult to change their minds.”
Wise was sentenced to death for killing four workers
during a shooting rampage he planned to coincide with a shift change at
the R.E Phelon plant, which makes ignition parts for lawn mowers. All
four people killed either had something to do with Wise getting fired or
took jobs he wanted, prosecutors said.
As he stood before the judge to have his sentence
formally read after his 2001 trial, Wise said he was ready to receive
his punishment. “I do not wish to take advantage of the court as far as
asking for mercy. It was a fair trial. I committed these crimes,” he
said in a voice so soft few in the courtroom could hear.
Wise will be the sixth person put to death in South
Carolina without using all their appeals since the death penalty was
reinstated in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Wise will be the 34th inmate put to death in South Carolina since 1976.
Hastings Wise a 'volunteer' for execution; his is
scheduled this evening
By Jeffrey Collins - The Times and Democrat
COLUMBIA — They are called “volunteers” — inmates who
choose to give up their appeals and be put to death. Whether they do it
out of remorse, boredom or frustration the result is the same.
Hastings Wise appears to be one of them, heading to
the death chamber Friday to be executed by lethal injection at 6 p.m.
for killing four workers at an Aiken County plant in September 1997 as
revenge for his firing several weeks earlier.
Wise, who tried to commit suicide in the plant after
the shootings by drinking insecticide, has asked to die since his arrest.
He refused to let his lawyers call any witnesses to ask the jury to
spare his life and has brushed off any attempts to appeal since he was
sent to death row. “At almost every opportunity he has expressed his
wish to die,” said attorney Joseph Savitz, who also has represented
other volunteers. “Once you get someone whose convinced they want to die,
it’s difficult to change their minds.”
Wise was sentenced to death for killing four workers
during a shooting rampage he planned to coincide with shift change at
the R.E Phelon plant, which makes ignition parts for lawnmowers. All
four people killed either had something to do with Wise getting fired or
took jobs he wanted, prosecutors said. As he stood before the judge to
have his sentence formally read after his 2001 trial, Wise said he was
ready to receive his punishment. “I do not wish to take advantage of the
court as far as asking for mercy. It was a fair trial. I committed these
crimes,” he said in a voice so soft few in the courtroom could hear.
Wise will be the sixth person put to death in South
Carolina without using all their appeals since the death penalty was
reinstated in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
All have died by lethal injection instead of the electric chair, and
Savitz said that’s not a coincidence. “Lethal injection has changed the
dynamic of the whole thing,” Savitz said. “These guys are no longer
scared to be put to death.”
Wise will be the 34th inmate put to death in South
Carolina since 1976, meaning about 18 percent of the state’s executions
have been volunteers. Nationwide, 117 of the 989 inmates, or nearly 12
percent, put to death since the death penalty was reinstated had appeals
left, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty
The numbers fluctuate from year to year. In 2004, 10
of the 59 executions were done on volunteers. In 2003, it was just four
deaths out of 65, according to the center’s statistics. Many more
inmates give up for a time, but change their minds, Dieter said. “They
get discouraged, they lose, lose, lose and give up. But then after a
while, they decide to go after at least one more appeal,” Dieter said.
The six volunteers in South Carolina don’t hold much
in common other than giving up their appeals. Three of them were
executed in 1996, shortly after the state made lethal injection an
option, said Mark Plowden, a spokesman with the state attorney general’s
The rush of volunteers also coincided with the
arrival of former Corrections Department chief Michael Moore, who moved
death row from Broad River Correctional Institution in Columbia, where
executions continue to be carried out, to Lieber Correctional
Institution in the Lowcountry. Moore also used the move to make
conditions harsher on death row, requiring inmates to stay in their
cells 23 hours a day and have minimal contact with each other even
outside of their cells.
The reasons the volunteers drop their appeals varies.
Wise and the most recent volunteer, Michael Passaro, planned to commit
suicide after their crimes. In Passaro’s case, he jumped from his
burning van, but left his 2-year-old daughter — the subject of a bitter
custody battle — strapped inside.
Doyle Cecil Lucas, put to death for killing a Rock
Hill couple in a robbery, told his lawyer he was filled with remorse and
hoped his death brought his victims’ family relief. And Michael Torrence,
executed for killing two Midlands men in a robbery, asked to drop his
appeals because he couldn’t see how spending 20 or 30 more years in
prison was going to benefit him. “If I could start a euthanasia clinic
in downtown Columbia, I’d have more clients than I could handle,” Savitz
said. “Sometimes life is tough. I’ve witnessed lethal injection. It’s an
easy way to die.”
Jurors decide death; Families, survivors express
By Greg Rickbaugh - The Augusta Chronicle
Friday, February 2, 2001
Aiken - Arthur Hastings Wise didn't want mercy, and
he didn't get it. Twelve jurors, some of them weeping, returned a death
sentence Thursday against Mr. Wise for a workplace rampage at R.E.
Phelon Co. in Aiken. Four were killed and three were wounded in the
attack Sept. 15, 1997.
The convicted killer closed his eyes and remained
stone faced during the announcement. "I don't have much to say except
that I did not wish to take advantage of the court as far as asking
mercy,'' Mr. Wise said. "It's a fair trial. I committed the crimes.''
The verdicts brought shouts of joy from survivors of
the attack and relatives of the dead. They cried and held hands in court.
Outside, they gathered in groups and hugged. "Three years, four months
and 17 days,'' said Robert Wise, a former Phelon employee who is not
related to the defendant, referring to his long wait for justice. "He
got what he deserved,'' said shooting victim Stan Vance, a former Phelon
security guard. "That's what I wanted to hear - death. He didn't deserve
Jurors deliberated almost five hours, and former
Phelon employee Bruce Mundy worried they were considering a life
sentence. ``I was sweating,'' he said. "Life just wouldn't have been
justice. I mean, he killed my friends. I believe when the time comes,
he'll pay dearly.'' Janet Cooper, sister-in-law of victim Charles
Griffeth, said she felt relief. ``We hated that it dragged out so
long,'' she said, adding that other family members were too distraught
to attend the trial.
Judge Cooper sentenced Mr. Wise, 46, to death four
times for the murders of Sheryl Wood, David Moore, Leonard Filyaw and Mr.
Griffeth. He also ordered 60 years in prison for the shootings of Stan
Vance, Jerry Corley and John Mucha, all of whom survived. Concurrent
jail time was given for burglary and possession of a gun during the
commission of a violent crime. The judge set April 3 as the execution
date, but that will be delayed because Mr. Wise gets an automatic appeal
to the South Carolina Supreme Court.
Defense attorneys Gregory Harlow and Carl B. Grant
were crippled in their efforts to save their client from a death
sentence when Mr. Wise ordered them Wednesday not to present witnesses
on his behalf. The killer said he didn't want family or friends involved
and didn't want to make his own plea to the jury.
Outside the courtroom,
Mr. Grant said he was prepared to call Mr. Wise's family and friends and
members of the North Augusta church he once attended. "There was no
question we were hampered in this case by not being able to call those
13 witnesses. In this case, the jury did not get to know that man
sitting in the jail suit,'' he said. The defense attorneys were left
with only closing arguments to make a case for life.
Mr. Harlow told jurors that his client offered no
excuses and no plea of insanity. He asked the jury to spare his client
from death row so others could learn from him. "What causes a person to
snap like this? ... Perhaps in the future, Mr. Wise may be studied,'' Mr.
Taking a different approach, Mr. Grant asked jurors
to use their consciences and not be swayed by the opinion of another
juror. He asked if they could look themselves in the mirror or sleep at
night if they voted against their consciences. Mr. Grant argued for a
life sentence, saying Mr. Wise still would die in prison. "The only way
he's going to get out is in a coffin,'' he said. Finally, Mr. Grant
asked for mercy, saying enough people had suffered already. "In the
midst of misery, you have the opportunity to choose mercy,'' he said. "There's
been enough killing. The question is when will the killing stop? When
will the dying stop?''
The jury rejected the defense attorneys' arguments
and agreed with 2nd Circuit Solicitor Barbara R. Morgan, who told jurors
that Mr. Wise created the "ultimate, horrible terrorist act'' and
deserved the ultimate sentence. "He didn't come to kill one or two,'' Ms.
Morgan said. ``He came to maximize his hate.''
Ms. Morgan repeated the facts of the case, recalling
how Mr. Wise returned to the plant after being fired. Mr. Wise had
worked as a machine operator at Phelon, a company that manufactures
ignitions for lawn equipment. He was fired in July 1997 after a
confrontation with a supervisor. Mr. Wise returned to the plant and shot
a security guard before killing Mr. Griffeth, the human resources
director who had fired him.
He later walked to the tool and die area,
where he fatally shot Mr. Moore and Mr. Filyaw, who worked in jobs Mr.
Wise wanted. Ms. Woods was shot three times in the quality assurance
division. Mr. Wise created terror for dozens of employees as they
prepared for their shift change that day, Ms. Morgan said. ``Their
innocence and safety at the workplace were shattered,'' she said. ``The
facts of what happened in a small manufacturing plant in the county of
Aiken demand the ultimate penalty.''
The verdicts wrapped up a two-week trial that began
in Beaufort, S.C., where jury selection was held. Judge Cooper chose
jurors there because of widespread publicity given the case in Aiken
Minutes after a jury returned four death sentences,
Arthur Hastings Wise was given the chance to address the court. Here is
what he said: "Well, I've been pretty much quiet up until now. I don't
have much to say except that I did not wish to take advantage of the
court as far as asking mercy. "It's a fair trial. I committed the crimes.
Not once have I tried to evade my charges. As a matter of fact, from the
very beginning - 40 months ago - I admitted to being at the scene of the
crime, and I'm ready for my sentence.''
Key players in the Wise trial
Sunday, January 21, 2001
The names and faces of the Arthur Hastings Wise trial
Defendant - Arthur Hastings Wise
Charged with killing four workers and injuring three others at R.E.
Phelon Co. in Aiken on Sept. 15, 1997. Authorities say he had been fired
from the plant two months earlier for being aggressive with a
supervisor. He also had been turned down for several other positions he
wanted in the plant. The North Augusta man, who stands well over 6 feet
tall, spent time in prison for bank robbery and receiving stolen goods,
but he earned a technical degree and found work after his release. He
had worked at the Phelon plant five years before his termination.
2nd Circuit Solicitor - Barbara R. Morgan
Will argue the case to the jury, question the state's witnesses and
cross-examine defense witnesses. Ms. Morgan has prosecuted five
casesthat resulted in death sentences.
Sheryl Wood - Quality assurance employee
Ms. Wood was shot three times and died in the plant's rear parking lot.
The 27-year-old from Bath was a 1988 graduate of Midland Valley High
School, where she played basketball, volleyball and softball. She was
survived by her mother and father, a brother, five sisters and her
Charles Griffeth - Human resources director
Mr. Griffeth, 50, was the first person killed. He was in his office when
he was shot twice. Mr. Griffeth, of Lexington, was responsible for
firing and hiring at the company. Police say they believe he was
targeted because the suspect had been fired two months before the
shootings. Mr. Griffeth had worked at Phelon about six months.
Leonard Filyaw - Tool and die machinist
Mr. Filyaw, 30, was shot at his work station. The Warrenville man had
been engaged for two weeks when he was killed. He was a 1985 graduate of
Silver Bluff High School and liked to collect guns. He was survived by
his parents, two sisters and his maternal grandparents.
David Moore - Tool and die machinist
Mr. Moore, 30, was shot twice at his work station. An Aiken resident, he
had a fiancee when he was killed. He was a member of Holiness Church. He
was survived by his parents, a brother and sister and his maternal
4 killed in Aiken County shooting;
suspect caught by SWAT team
By Kathy Steele.
September 16, 1997
AIKEN - Leila Duncan ran for her life when she saw a
gunman Monday in the hallways of R.E. Phelon Co. "He said he would be
back,'' Ms. Duncan said. "He passed me. I saw the gun. Thank God he
didn't say anything to me, because he probably would have shot me,
Four people were killed and three were wounded when
the shooting broke out shortly after 3 p.m., just as shifts were
changing at the plant. Three of the bodies were found in the tool and
die and human resources departments. A fourth victim was found in the
rear parking lot. "One of those shots could possibly have been for me,''
the assembly worker said. "I just ran for my life when I heard the shots.
People were running as fast as they could, yelling `Get out! Get out!'''
The accused gunman, Arthur Hastings Wise, 43, of
North Augusta, was listed in critical condition at Aiken Regional
Medical Centers late Monday after ingesting an unknown substance,
possibly a drug. Mr. Wise had been fired from the plant within the last
few weeks, plant employees said.
Aiken County Coroner Sue Townsend identified the
victims as David Moore, 30, of North Augusta; Esther Sheryl Wood, 27, of
Bath; Charles Griffith, 50, of Columbia; and Ernest L. Filyaw, 31, of
Warrenville. Ms. Wood's body was found in the parking lot, Ms. Townsend
said. The killings came almost exactly one year after Mark David Hill
opened fire in the South Carolina Department of Social Services office
in North Augusta, leaving three people dead. "I thought, `My God! We did
this same thing last year,''' Mrs. Townsend said.
Lt. Stan Vance, a 49-year-old security guard from
Jackson, and John Mucha, 60, of Aiken, were listed in serious condition
at Aiken Regional with gunshot wounds. Lucius Corley, 44, of
Graniteville, was treated and released, authorities said. Five other
employees were treated and released with minor injuries, hospital
Police were releasing only sketchy details late
Monday as they worked to piece together the sequence of events. The 911
emergency call came in at 3:07 p.m. to the Aiken County Sheriff's
Office. Within minutes, an army of law enforcement officers responded
from the sheriff's office, the State Law Enforcement Division, the FBI,
the Aiken and North Augusta public safety departments, Aiken County
Emergency Medical Services and the Edgefield County Sheriff's Department.
Helicopters hovered overhead at the plant and state agents brought in an
Employees at Phelon, which manufactures ignition
systems and flywheels for lawn equipment, said they could have predicted
the shooting spree. Margaret Drafts, who works in the plant's payroll
department, said she had spoken with Mr. Wise frequently on the phone
about payroll deductions.
"He had applied for several different positions in
tool and die and quality assurance departments and he didn't get them,''
she said. "I never thought he would have done that. He was always
pleasant to me.'' "When he was fired, he said this wasn't the end of it.
Nobody paid it any attention,'' Angela Humphries said. Others heard the
same thing. "He told them it wasn't over. He'd be back,'' Lisa Beck said.
Lt. Michael Frank, spokesman for the sheriff's
office, confirmed that Mr. Wise was a former employee of Phelon. He
wasn't aware of how long he had worked at the plant or the reasons for
his dismissal. "We were told an individual showed up at the plant,
walked inside and began shooting,'' Lt. Frank said. "We don't have
information on whether it was a random shooting or if he had targets.''
The gunman drove to the plant, parked his red two-door
Saturn and pointed a weapon at Lt. Vance, the sheriff's spokesman said.
He shot and wounded the guard and headed for the main door. Mr. Wise cut
the telephone lines before entering the building, Ms. Duncan said.
Eyewitnesses said they fled the plant, scrambling for
doors as other workers and supervisors came through shouting, "There's a
man with a gun.'' Two people were shot to death in the plant's tool and
die area, one in the human resources department and one in the back
parking lot, Lt. Frank said.
Carol Woody said she was walking toward the personnel
office when Mr. Wise ran by. "He pushed me out of the way,'' Ms. Woody
said. "He went in the human resources door. A gun was in his left hand.
I could see the gun. I know the gun was black. He's a big man.''
A lot of employees said they felt lucky to get out
alive. Bruce Mundy, who works in the flywheel department, was standing
next to a woman who was shot. "He killed everybody,'' Mr. Mundy said as
his mother held tightly to his arm. They were standing outside the
Golden Pantry, milling around with a couple of hundred other employees
and relatives looking for their loved ones after the shooting.
Vernelle Weaver heaved a sigh of relief when she
found her husband, Jimmy, outside and safe. "When I came up I didn't see
him,'' she said. "All kinds of things were going on in my head.''
Danny Goldston said the man next to him was shot. "I
didn't know the guy,'' he said. "I heard popping sounds. I seen a flash
from a pistol. Then I left.''
With most of the employees evacuated after the
shooting, Lt. Frank said the sheriff's entry team and state agents' SWAT
team began searching each section of the building for Mr. Wise. As the
search proceeded, two men and a woman were hiding under desks on the
first floor, communicating with a 911 dispatcher by portable telephone.
They were found and evacuated. SLED Chief Robert Stewart said Mr. Wise
was found on the second floor near the quality assurance office. The
weapon, a handgun, was discovered nearby. "He said nothing,'' Chief
Stewart said. "He was lying on the floor and there appeared to be
something physically wrong with him.''
The state Supreme Court has set an execution date for
a man convicted of killing four former co-workers at an Aiken County
plant in 1997. The justices have set a November 4th execution date for
51-year-old Arthur Hastings Wise. Wise had asked to have his appeals
dropped almost immediately after his 2001 conviction.
general's office says Wise had offered no defense during his trial. Wise
was within weeks of dying by lethal injection in June 2004 when the
state Supreme Court stopped his execution because his lawyer said he
wanted to appeal and Wise wrote a letter to the court saying he wanted
to die. Charles Griffeth, David Moore, Earnest Filyaw and Cheryl Wood
died and three other people were hurt in the attack at the R.E. Phelon
lawnmower ignition plant.
Charles Griffeth was hired by R.E. Phelon to
fill the management opening in human resources. Pam Morey, his assistant,
said. "(Mr. Phelon) got the best man for the job when he hired Charles.
Charles would walk through the plant and talk and joke with the workers.
He treated people with tenderness. He made it worthwhile going to work."
But the good times ended violently Sept. 15 that year, when Hastings
Arthur Wise, a former Phelon machine operator who had been fired two
months earlier, returned with a gun, nearly 200 rounds of ammunition and
a plan to make those he felt had wronged him pay in blood. At the end of
the rampage, four were dead and three wounded.
The violence started at about 3 p.m. on that Monday
eight years ago when security officer Stanley Vance took the first
bullet from Wise's gun - in the chest at close range - and fell in the
guard shack where he had been on duty. From there, Wise headed for the
human resources department inside the main building. Pam Morey, whose
last name at the time was Holley, was on the telephone at her desk in
the outer office when Wise rushed in, searching for Charles Griffeth. "I
saw the shadow just dart past me. I froze when I heard the noise (of
gunfire)," she said. Charles Griffeth had also been on the phone when
Wise entered. He tried to take cover when he spotted the gun, said his
sister-in-law Janet Cooper. But there was no time to find safety. The
well-loved manager died at his desk when he was shot twice in the back.
Returning to the outer office, Wise accosted Pam
Morey. "He put the gun between my eyes," she said. He then ordered her
off the phone and yanked it out of the wall. "I just started pleading
and praying. I said, 'I have kids. I'm a single mother. Please don't
kill me,'" Mrs. Morey said. The gunman was distracted by someone who
entered the building, and he left the room. Terrified, Mrs. Morey said
she hid under her desk "because I didn't want to see somebody get shot."
When she eventually heard shots farther off, she jumped up and ran from
the building. Wise continued his rampage, firing and reloading. He moved
to the tool and dye area where he had wanted to work but had been denied.
There, David Moore, Earnest Filyaw, Lucius Corley and John Mitchell were
shot. David Moore and Earnest Filyaw both died.
After a frantic search, worker John Goad discovered
his brother behind a work station and figured he was hiding from the
gunman. Then he rolled his brother over. "I could see the blood on his
chest. His eyes were still open. He was starting to turn purple," Mr.
Goad told the jury in Wise's trial as tears streamed down his face. ``When
I realized he was gone, I just started calling his name. I said, 'No,
David, no!'" David Moore, his brother and co-worker, was gone. But the
war-like atmosphere around Mr. Goad continued. "I could hear the shots,
and I could hear people screaming,'' he said. "I knew I had to go. I
knew I couldn't carry him out. So I ran out the way I came." An Aiken
resident, Moore had a fiancee when he was killed. He was a member of
Holiness Church. He was survived by his parents, a brother and sister
and his maternal grandparents.
After the gunman walked out of the tool and die area
toward the quality assurance division, employee David Langille said, Mr.
Langille checked on co-worker Leonard Filyaw, who had been hit once with
gunfire. "His eyes, there was a blank stare. I knew he was dead,'' Mr.
Langille said. David Moore had the same lifeless stare, he said. But
John Mucha was alive, begging and pleading for help for his gunshot
wound. His co-workers came to his aid and carried him outside. Earnest
Filyaw was from Warrenville and had been engaged for two weeks when he
was killed. He was a 1985 graduate of Silver Bluff High School and liked
to collect guns. He was survived by his parents, two sisters and his
After hearing gunfire from the shootings of Moore and
Filyaw, other employees ran. Sheryl Wood almost made it out, but that
wasn't Wise's plan. He shot the young woman who got the job he wanted.
She fell, with bullets in her back and leg.
The gunman walked up to
where she lay on the floor and shot her in the head. In the quality
assurance office, she lay there, pleading with others not to leave her.
Minutes later, die cast worker Bruce Mundy appeared. He had been outside
but decided to return and help the wounded. He soon discovered Ms. Wood.
"I yelled into the radio that I had found somebody and they were hurt,''
Mr. Mundy told the jury, fighting back tears. "I couldn't move her. She
squeezed my hand, but as far as talking - no, she couldn't talk. ... She
was gurgling, her eyes rolled back into her head, and she died.'' Still,
Mr. Mundy and others lifted Ms. Wood onto a stretcher and carried her
outside, just in time to meet arriving police and rescue personnel.
Sheryl Wood was the last of seven victims. The 27-year-old from Bath was
a 1988 graduate of Midland Valley High School, where she played
basketball, volleyball and softball. She was survived by her mother and
father, a brother, five sisters and her grandmother. Only Mr. Vance, Mr.
Corley and Mr. Mitchell survived.
Aiken Public Safety Officer Bob Besley testified that
he arrived at the plant and eventually found the body of human resources
manager Charles Griffeth in the front office, a telephone still in his
hand. The manager's eyes were fixed and dilated, and he had no pulse,
Officer Besley said. Beth Griffeth, Charles Griffeth's widow, was too
traumatized to attend any of the trial and will be out of the state,
said her sister Mrs. Cooper. "She didn't want to face it," Mrs. Cooper
said. "We're just so hoping that once this is over, it will give her
some closure. She won't have to deal with it every time something else
comes up." Pam Morey understands her pain. "She lost one of the best men
God ever made. I felt like I lost my dad when I lost him," she said.
Hastings Wise was put to death by lethal
injection Friday night for killing four workers at an Aiken County plant
in September 1997 out of revenge for being fired. Wise, 51, tried to die
the day of the killings, drinking insecticide after the plant emptied.
But it only made him violently ill. Wise refused to let witnesses
testify for him as jurors chose between the death penalty and life in
prison, then refused to appeal his conviction.
Prosecutors said Wise
waited for afternoon shift change at the R.E. Phelon lawnmower ignition
plant so he could make sure all of his targets were there. He only shot
people who he thought led to his firing several weeks before or took
jobs he wanted, authorities said. Wise made no final statement and never
looked at the victims' families or other witnesses. Instead, he stared
at the ceiling and took several deep breaths as the lethal mix of three
chemicals went into his veins. His rapid blinking ended with his eyes
wide open at about the same time his chest stopped rising. It was about
two minutes after the curtain to the death chamber opened. The official
time of death was 6:18 p.m.
"He didn't die a violent death. He died easy, went to
sleep," said Tommy Thompson. Thompson's son David Moore was one of the
four killed eight years ago. He wanted to be there to watch justice be
served. "He's dead. He won't be able to commit crimes again, but you
never get over the loss," said Thompson.
According to witnesses, Wise
didn't look at anyone nor did he offer any words to the victims'
families. "I was hoping he might have said, I'm sorry, but it just
wasn't in him," said John Wood, whose daughter Sheryl was killed in the
attack. Zach Bush was working at R.E. Phelon that fateful day, but Wise
spared his life. He came to honor those who weren't as fortunate. "All
of our family there at the R.E. Phelon company hope this will be a
passing page in the chapter of the book of our lives," said Bush. "When
it happens to you and your family, that's when it comes home and no one
should ever have to go through that," said Thompson. And though the
execution brings closure, victims say they'll never forget the loss.
National Coalition to Abolish the
Arthur Hastings Wise - South Carolina - November 4,
Arthur Hastings Wise, a white man, is scheduled to be
executed on Nov. 4, 2005 for the Sept. 15, 1997 shooting deaths of
Charles Griffeth, David W. Moore, Earnest L. Filyaw, and Cheryl Wood in
Wise returned to work after being fired from his job
as a machine operator and shot the four victims in addition to injuring
many others. Wise tried to kill himself after the murders by swallowing
insecticide; however he was taken to the hospital after being arrested
Wise has shown sorrow and a desire to pay the price
for his actions. He has dropped his appeals and is “volunteering” to be
executed. At the time of the crime there was evidence of LSD in Wise’s
system. It is not the job of the state to assist its citizens in
suicide. Yet that is exactly what the state of South Carolina would be
doing if Wise is executed. Wise is clearly a troubled man and clearly
the death penalty is an inappropriate sentence. Please write Gov. Mark
Sanford requesting that he commute Wise’s sentence to life in prison.
CO-WORKERS DESCRIBE BIBLE-TOTING SUSPECT
September 16, 1997, The
Arthur Hastings Wise always carried a small Bible and
constantly talked of his faith, co-workers and neighbors said Monday.
"He's really into God," said Cheryl Hilton,
a neighbor in North Augusta. "He would say no matter what happens,
God will forgive."
GUNMAN KILLS 4 AT AIKEN PLANT
Former worker injures three others
in shooting rampage at R.R. Phelon
September 16, 1997, The State
A gunman identified by co-workers as a fired employee
stormed into a manufacturing plant about 3 p.m. Monday, killing four
workers and wounding three others.
Police said they took Arthur Hastings Wise, 43, of
North Augusta into custody after a SWAT team burst into a darkened
office of the R.E. Phelon Co. plant and found him vomiting on the floor.
FOUR KILLED IN WORKPLACE RAMPAGE
September 16, 1997, The Columbian
AIKEN, S.C. -- Leila Duncan didn't have time to duck,
run or even move when the gunman came into her office at the assembly
department of R.E. Phelon Co. Inc. and shot two of her co-workers.
Authorities said a man who had been fired two months
ago from his job at the parts plant shot seven people there Monday,
killing four of them.
FIRED WORKER SUSPECTED IN KILLING SPREE
September 16, 1997, San Jose
A man co-workers say was fired from his job at an
Aiken, S.C., plant that makes parts for lawn-mower engines returned with
a gun Monday, fatally shooting four people and injuring three others,
police said. A SWAT team captured Arthur Hastings Wise, 43, inside the
R.E. Phelon Plant about 2 1/2 hours after the afternoon shooting spree.
One person was killed outside and three were shot dead
inside the plant, authorities said. Two people were in serious condition
at a hospital.
SUSPECT IS RECALLED AS FRIENDLY
September 17, 1997, Greensboro
News & Record
Neighbor Irene Moore thought she could count on
certain things: Arthur Wise's daily trip to the mailbox with his cat and
Shih Tzu "Buster," his departure for the 12-hour night shift
promptly at 7:30 p.m. and his attending church on Sundays.
So she thought it strange when Wise missed church last
weekend. "He just sat out on the porch," she said.
VICTIM HEARD ONLY SCREAMING . . . AND GUNSHOTS'
September 17, 1997,
The Charlotte Observer
At first it sounded to Jerry Corley like someone
banging on a table.
"I thought it was a joke," said Corley, who
was bending over a table in the R.E. Phelon Co. plant's tool and die
shop. "When I realized it wasn't, was when I got this burning
sensation like somebody had taken a torch and singed my whole side with
it. I tried to hold myself up. It was like somebody cut my legs from
PHELON: WISE FIRED FOR VIOLENCE
September 18, 1997, The
Arthur Hastings Wise was fired from the R.E. Phelon
Co. plant for violent behavior, company owner Dale Phelon confirmed
Wise "was terminated because he had a violent
behavior and he was a threat to the other employees," Phelon said.
He refused to elaborate because of the ongoing investigation.
SUSPECT IN PLANT SHOOTINGS OUT OF HOSPITAL
September 19, 1997,
The Charlotte Observer
The North Augusta man charged in this week's shooting
spree at an Aiken County plant has been released from the hospital and
denied bond on murder charges.
Arthur Hastings Wise, 43, was discharged Thursday from
Aiken Regional Medical Center in good condition, authorities said.
FEW SAW VIOLENCE IN AIKEN GUNMAN
September 21, 1997,
The Charlotte Observer
Arthur Hastings Wise was supposed to be in church.
Instead, he sat on the stairs to his apartment.
His neighbors had never seen Wise miss church, even
when he was working third shift at R.E. Phelon Co. in Aiken. He'd come
home from work Sunday morning dog-tired, change into a suit and drive
off to the North Augusta Church of Christ.
AIKEN MAN FOUND GUILTY OF MURDERING 4 AT PLANT
January 30, 2001, The
A man accused of shooting and killing four of his
former co-workers at the plant where they worked has been convicted of
It took the jury about an hour Monday to find Arthur
Hastings Wise guilty of killing his former co-workers and shooting three
others at the R.E. Phelon Co. plant in September 1997.
WISE OFFERS NO PROTEST AS HE IS SENTENCED TO DIE
FOR KILLING 4 CO-WORKERS
February 2, 2001, The
Just as he refused to put up a defense before being
convicted of killing four co-workers, Arthur Hastings Wise did nothing
to try and dissuade jurors from sentencing him to death.
The jurors deliberated for about five hours on
Thursday and then said Wise, 46, should be executed for the September
1997 shootings at the R.E. Phelon Co. plant.
PLANT WORKER SURVIVED 10 MINUTES OF TERROR
After gunman's rampage, community
Wedged under a table in the tool-and-die shop at R.H.
Phelon Co., Lucius Jerry Corley watched as a gunman sprayed the room
with bullets, then reloaded.
Bleeding and terrified, Corley was close enough to see
the gun's muzzle flash as the man fired over and over.
"He was completely expressionless," Corley
said Tuesday as he recounted Monday's 10-minute shooting spree.
"All he was doing was firing."
It was the pop of gunshots and the shrill screams that
made Corley run for the door Monday afternoon, just minutes after he
started work on the second shift.
But he took one step and collapsed. He never felt the
bullet tear into his right hip.
Police have arrested Arthur Hastings Wise, 43, of
North Augusta in the shootings, which left four people dead and three
others recuperating from gunshot wounds. R.E. Phelon workers said Wise
was fired two months ago from the plant, which employs about 400 people
and makes parts for chain saws and lawn mowers.
Tuesday night, Wise lay strapped to a hospital bed in
serious condition under armed guard at the Aiken Regional Medical
Centers. He is charged with one count of murder. Sheriff Howard Sellers
said other charges won't be added until an investigation is done.
Wise is likely to face four counts of murder, three
counts of assault and battery with intent to kill, second-degree
burglary and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime,
said sheriff's spokesman Michael Frank.
Police won't say what Wise swallowed before SWAT
officers from the State Law Enforcement Division found him Monday
vomiting on the floor of an upstairs office at the plant.
Killed in the shooting were: Esther Sheryl Wood, 27,
of Bath; Charles Griffeth, 56, of Lexington; David Moore, 30, of North
Augusta; and Ernest Leonard Filyaw, 30, of Warrenville.
Besides Corley, the two other survivors are Stan
Vance, 49, a plant guard from Jackson, and John Mucha, 60, of Aiken, a
foreman in the tool-and-die room.
Mucha's daughter, Kimberly, of Beaufort, said her
father lost a kidney but was doing well. He remained in intensive care
Mucha's closest friends in Aiken have been his
co-workers, his daughter said. "Everything revolved around his
job," she said.
Vance, who has worked at the plant for two years, was
the security guard on duty Monday, said his wife, Donna Vance.
Vance, a mechanic who loves to work on cars, remained
in intensive care Tuesday after undergoing surgery to repair damage to
his rib cage, liver and pancreas. His wife said he could be taken off
the intensive-care list as early as today.
"He's in a lot of pain, but he's doing OK,"
Donna Vance said. "He's been very aware of everything."
On Tuesday, Corley sat on the couch in his
Graniteville house -next door to his parents' home - wearing a pair of
blue jeans over his hip wound. Although a set of crutches rested by his
side, Corley mostly hopped from room to room.
He carried with him a constant reminder of how tenuous
life can be - the bullet remains in his right hip. Each time he winced
at the pain, his mind was pulled back to Monday's bizarre scene of blood
After working at the Phelon plant for a year and a
half, he felt his sense of security shattered with the gunfire. After
being shot, he crawled out of the tool-and-die shop, then, with the help
of a co-worker, made it outside where other workers drove him to Aiken
Regional Medical Centers.
"I put my hand behind my leg, and when I pulled
it back, it was blood red," Corley said.
Corley said he had only nodded to Wise occasionally
and didn't even know his name until after the shooting.
Meanwhile, the owner of R.E. Phelon promised emotional
and financial help to traumatized workers Tuesday. But Dale Phelon said
security doesn't need to be tightened.
"We had more than adequate security procedures in
place," Phelon said. "We don't feel that's an issue
The factory is fenced, has unarmed security guards at
a gated entrance and issues ID badges to workers, Phelon said.
"It's not run like a prison."
Phelon said no employees had complained of lax
security before Monday's rampage.
The company plans to take employees to a crisis
counseling session today. A memorial service and a memorial fund will be
set soon, he said.
Phelon would not say how much money his company will
put into the fund and indicated the account would be financed with
contributions from the public.
"We have a lot of healing to do," Phelon
said, choking on emotion. "Our hearts go out to the families of the
victims. ... We will do whatever we can to help you."
The plant is likely to reopen today.
The Sheriff's Office has been tight-lipped about the
shooting. Officers wouldn't be specific about the chronology of events.
They wouldn't say whether the gunman targeted his victims, as employees
have said, though Sellers did say Wise "passed up some
individuals" in the plant.
Officers would not say where Wise got the gun. He was
convicted in the 1970s of robbery, possession of stolen goods and
transporting them across state lines, so as a felon he could not legally
buy a firearm.
Police said Tuesday that the handgun was a
Russian-made 9mm or a caliber close to that.
People in this All-America town were mostly just
shocked the day after the shooting.
"You read about these kinds of things in big
cities," said Richard Allewelt, 35, owner of Main Street's New Moon
Cafe. "You just have a lot of disbelief that something like this
can happen in such a great little Southern town like Aiken."
Earlier this year, Aiken was singled out among 100
communities competing for the All-America designation from the National
Civic League. The town of 25,000 trumpeted its median family income of
$40,370, its mix of Southern charm and ethnic diversity and its elite
tradition of raising and racing thoroughbred horses.
"I think people will realize that incidents like
these are just aberrations," said Ann Carter, office manager of a
Main Street real estate firm.
Allewelt and others struggled Tuesday to understand
what might have driven someone to shoot seven people.
"I don't condone it by any means," said
Michael Priester, a self-employed construction worker, "but I can
understand how people can be driven to it. When a person has no hope,
you can turn animalistic right fast."
Allewelt touched on the helplessness other residents
felt. "The scary part is I don't think there's a lot you can do
about it," he said.
The tragedy has made Corley take stock of what's
important in life. He already dotes on his wife, Sherri, and his
children, 5-year-old Jessica and 13-year-old J.C. Pictures fill the
walls and tabletops, charting the growth of the children and displaying
Each day Wise usually picks his daughter up from
school. For a while, he won't be there at the end of the day, because he
"I just thank the good Lord that I'm still here,
that I can still take care of my wife and kids," he said.
And he was still there Tuesday, to celebrate his fifth
FROM A TROUBLED BIRTH, A LIFE ALONE
Arthur Hastings Wise was supposed to be in church.
Instead, he sat on the stairs to his apartment, wrestling with demons.
Neighbors in the friendly cluster of apartments near
North Augusta had never seen Wise miss church, even when he was working
the third shift at R.E. Phelon Co. in Aiken. He'd come home from work
Sunday morning dog tired, change into a suit and drive off to the North
Augusta Church of Christ.
But on this particular Sunday - a week ago today -
Wise wasn't working at Phelon any more. He'd been fired two months
before for violent behavior.
Neighbors said he sat on the stairs beneath his tiny
porch for hours, surrounded by his potted trees and hanging baskets of
plants. He stared into space as the day grew hot and humid.
By Monday morning, the battle in Wise's soul still
hadn't been decided. Tommie Amaker, who lived downstairs and might have
been as close to Wise as anyone, was hurrying to work at 4:30 a.m. when
Wise knocked on his door.
After giving Amaker some mail that had been put in the
wrong box, Wise told his neighbor that he might not be there when Amaker
got home from work.
"Oh, are you going out of town?'' Amaker asked.
"No, I'm just thinking about leaving. I might not
be here,'' Wise replied. Amaker asked where he was going, but his friend
was "kind of evasive.''
When Amaker got home Monday afternoon, he was
"I saw his things still here, the flowers still
on the porch,'' he said. "I thought, 'Oh, I guess he changed his
Then Amaker watched the news and learned that Wise
hadn't changed his mind, that four people at the Phelon plant were dead
and three wounded, that Wise was in the hospital in critical condition
and accused of one of the worst mass slayings in South Carolina history.
Amaker wondered then why he hadn't asked Wise if
anything was wrong. The neighbors who'd seen Wise staring into space the
day before wondered the same thing.
But they didn't dwell on it. Wise is an intensely
private man, and his neighbors had learned that if he wanted you to know
something about him, he'd tell you.
Forty-three years ago, Wise's mother had died bringing
him into the world. He's been a loner ever since.
A lifelong loner. Few people in Aiken know much about
Wise's life as a boy. After his mother died in childbirth, he and his
sister went to live with their maternal grandmother, who has since died,
near the town of Montmorenci.
Wise's father, Hasting Wise of Aiken, had little
involvement with his son during his early years, said Hasting Wise's
wife, Elizabeth. Father and son share at least one trait, she said: Both
are quiet and don't like to talk about themselves.
Hasting Wise, a carpenter until he lost an eye, has
not talked with his wife about the shootings and did not want to talk
about it with a reporter, she said.
The younger Wise did forge a close bond with his aunt
and his older sister, who nicknamed him Hazel, a name he used until he
went to prison for the first time. Both women now live in New York, and
relatives in Aiken said they had no idea how to contact them.
Wise didn't graduate from Aiken High School, but
accounts differ on how soon he dropped out. He began breaking the law
soon after he reached adulthood.
At 18, he broke into a house on Easy Street in the
tony part of Aiken, where traffic signals warn motorists of equestrian
crossings. In a county of extremes, the place where Wise began his
troubles with the law was a long way from the poor, rural area of Aiken
County where he grew up.
He stole enough jewelry from the house to outfit a
coronation, court records show. He was charged with burglary and larceny
but convicted on a lesser charge of receiving stolen goods. He was
sentenced to five years in state prison and five years' probation.
That same year, Wise was convicted on a federal charge
of interstate transportation of stolen goods and sentenced to two years
in a federal penitentiary in Florida.
After getting out of prison in the mid-1970s, Wise
went to live with his father and stepmother. He already had worked in a
textile mill in Bath and in the stables of a horse farm. Now, he went to
work at an ice house, Elizabeth Wise said.
Despite his lack of education, Wise was a voracious
reader, his stepmother said. He read the Bible more than anything, a
habit he carried throughout his life.
But, in the late '70s, Wise was in trouble again. This
time, he was arrested for trying to rob the First National Bank in
Thomson, Ga. He handed the teller a note saying that he had a gun,
though he never produced the weapon, said McDuffie County Sheriff Logan
Marshall, who in 1979 was the investigator who handled the case.
Wise was sentenced to 12 years in a Georgia prison but
served only three. He was disciplined twice - once for failure to follow
instructions and gambling, and once for insubordination and lying. None
of the offenses was severe. A personal-history statement by prison
officials done when Wise got out of prison showed him in good health,
except for some back strain, and having no signs of mental illness.
But nothing anywhere in Wise's record gave any
indication of violent tendencies.
In that, at least, Wise does not fit the profile of a
mass murderer exploding in rage over a perceived wrong, said Jerry
Randolph, an associate professor in USC's College of Social Work.
"He's not classic in the sense that you think of
a brooding, paranoid guy, with a (long-standing, established) history of
not getting along with co-workers, always scrapping with supervisors,''
said Randolph, who teaches a class in psychopathology. "This is one
of those that seems so random that it's even more frightening in a
But in another way, Wise fits the profile perfectly,
Randolph said. He apparently was a lifelong loner with few friends,
scant contact with his family and little evidence of love in his life.
"He seemed very isolated,'' Randolph said.
Getting on with his life. After getting out of prison
in 1983, Wise appeared to be getting his life back in order. He joined
the North Augusta Church of Christ and attended regularly. He moved into
the second-floor apartment of a simple, cube-shaped building on Verdery
He got a dog, a Shih Tzu named Buster, that he doted
on and walked every day. Later came a cat, adopted first by Buster and
then by Wise, neighbor Irene Moore said.
Amaker sometimes visited Wise's apartment. Asked to
describe it, he thought carefully before choosing the words tasteful,
elegant and masculine. One room was dedicated to weights, and Moore, who
lives on the second floor of a nearby building, remembered often looking
across the courtyard at night to see Wise working out, in silhouette.
Wise is a big man - over 6 feet tall and muscular -
but none of his neighbors found him at all threatening.
"You'd look at him and think, 'Oh, this guy could
tear me apart,''' said Amaker. "But when he talked with you, you
could see that he was very gentle.''
Though Wise was quiet and kept to himself, he was
friendly. He helped Moore open stuck jars, he worried about how another
neighbor was taking care of herself when she was pregnant, he checked up
on another after accidentally hitting him with his car.
But he told his neighbors almost nothing about himself
- his job, his family, his background in prison. And everyone noticed
that he almost never had visitors.
Amaker knew him better than most. When he first moved
into the apartment below Wise's, Amaker found his neighbor somewhat
aloof. It took about a year for the older man, 43, to loosen up and
become friends, the 40-year-old Amaker said. Eventually, Wise told
Amaker he'd been in prison, "but he never said why, and I didn't
Amaker did ask one time whether Wise had any family.
"He said, 'Oh, yes, they're right in the Aiken
area,' " Amaker said. "'I just don't communicate with them
because some people just can't let go of the past.' "
Wise was equally private at Phelon, where he worked as
a machine operator for about four years. But there was a difference
between work and home: Some of his co-workers did see signs of
Charles Burckhalter, who said he trained Wise when he
started at the plant, noticed it from the beginning.
"Hastings boasted about being in prison,'' he
said. "He wanted everyone to know that he had been in prison. He
liked for people to be afraid of him. People were afraid of him. That
way, no one would mess with him.''
Other employees said he didn't try to intimidate
people, but there were hints that he had an angry side.
"I never saw his temper,'' said LaJoyce Johnson,
who, like many, remembers Wise mostly as having his face buried in the
Bible. "But he did talk about it. He always told me he had learned
to control it.''
Co-workers said Wise had applied for a job in the
plant's tool-and-die shop, but didn't get it. Then, about two months
ago, he was fired.
Dale Phelon, president of the company, said Wise was
fired for unspecified violent behavior - being "a threat to other
employees.'' Co-workers Jimmy Pritchett and David Langille said Wise was
insubordinate to a supervisor and became aggressive when the supervisor
sent him home.
Wise said nothing about his firing to his father and
stepmother or to his neighbors. Amaker noticed that Wise was no longer
going to work at night and found out about his friend's firing from
someone else who worked at Phelon.
He couldn't believe Wise could get aggressive with a
supervisor, just as he later couldn't believe Wise could become violent.
Earlier this year, Amaker recalled, he himself was having problems at a
previous job. He was angry, and he went to Wise for advice.
"I was like, 'Hastings . . . I'm going to sue
them,' " Amaker said. "He said, 'I'll tell you what to do. You
go through the proper systems. Don't go taking matters into your own
In hindsight, Amaker thinks his friend had come so far
in getting his life back on track after prison that the blow of losing
his job, erasing much of the progress, was too much to take. But until
the day before the rampage at Phelon, Amaker and other neighbors saw no
signs that Wise was cracking.
His stepmother saw no signs, either. The last time she
saw him was four or five months ago, when he visited his father's house
and stayed about 20 minutes. He seemed happy, she said.
Since then, she and her husband hadn't heard from
Wise, though he lived in the next town.
"It did seem strange'' that he hadn't come over
since then, she said.
'The targeted ones.' Amaker was at work when Wise left
their apartment building Monday, but neighbors told him Wise drove off
in his new-looking red Saturn about noon. Where he was from then until
about 3 p.m., when he pulled into the Phelon plant just as the shifts
were changing, is a mystery.
What happened next is not. It will be replayed over
and over in the minds of hundreds of Phelon workers. Wise's face, so
often in the background and unnoticed when he worked at the plant, will
never be forgotten now.
Langille, a tool-and-die worker on the second shift,
barely knew Wise. But he recognized him instantly that day when he
looked up and realized that those popping sounds were not air hoses.
"He was looking wild-eyed,'' Langille said.
"I didn't look at his face long because he was still shooting.''
By the time Wise got to the tool-and-die area, where
he had wanted to work, he already had shot Stan Vance, a private
security guard, and Charles Griffeth, the human- resources director who
had fired him. Wise walked right by Phelon's glass-walled office but
didn't fire at the company president.
It seemed to many of those fleeing in terror that the
gunman was emptying his weapon at anything that moved - Langille heard
him go through four clips. But workers later said most of his shots
appeared to be carefully targeted.
Supervisor Ulysses Hackett said Wise came right up to
his shoulder, gun in hand. Hackett was certain he was about to be shot.
Instead, he said, Wise told him to 'Get the hell out. Clear the
Both Langille and Don Reed were standing in a knot of
tool-and-die workers discussing the transition from first shift to
second when the shots began. Reed saw John Mucha fall to one side and
Ernest Leonard Filyaw, to the other.
Mucha, Reed said, had been the one who decided not to
hire Wise for the tool-and-die job. Mucha, security guard Vance and
Lucius Jerry Corley survived their injuries. Filyaw, Griffeth, Sheryl
Wood and David Moore did not.
"Evidently, I wasn't one of the targeted ones,''
said Reed, who was too shaken two days after the shooting to go back to
the plant for counseling that was offered to all employees. He has not
decided whether he'll go back to work.
Withering in the heat. Wise has recovered enough from
the toxin he ingested after the shooting spree to be transferred from an
Aiken hospital to a Lee County prison.
His dog has been taken to the local animal shelter for
adoption. His cat has been taken in by a neighbor. His plants sit on the
small porch behind a banner of yellow police tape, withering in the
Downstairs, Amaker wonders whether there's anything he
could have done to turn his friend from the path he took. He has
wrestled with demons in his own life.
"The devil is a master of deception, trickery,
whatever,'' he said. "Being a Christian, I just cannot imagine what
the devil could have thrown at him to make him put down the Bible and
pick up a gun.''
State v. Wise,
359 S.C. 14, 596 S.E.2d 475 (S.C. 2004) (Direct Appeal).
Background: Defendant was convicted in the Circuit
Court, Aiken County, Thomas W. Cooper, Jr., J., of four counts of murder,
for which sentence of death was entered for each count, three counts of
assault and battery with intent to kill, one count of second-degree
burglary, and four counts of possession of a weapon during the
commission of a violent crime. Defendant appealed.
Holdings: The Supreme Court, Burnett, J., held that:
(1) trial judge did not abuse his discretion by excusing prospective
juror for cause during individual voir dire after juror stated that she
could not under any circumstances find defendant guilty;
(2) trial court did not abuse its discretion during penalty phase by
refusing to allow a surviving victim to testify on cross-examination
that he did not personally believe defendant should receive the death
(3) sentence of death imposed on defendant for each of his four
convictions of murder was neither excessive nor disproportionate in
light of crime and defendant. Affirmed.
Hastings Arthur Wise (Appellant) was convicted of four counts of murder,
three counts of assault and battery with intent to kill, one count of
second-degree burglary, and four counts of possession of a weapon during
the commission of a violent crime. The jury found two aggravating
circumstances: a murder was committed during the commission of a
burglary; and two or more persons were murdered by one act or pursuant
to one scheme or course of conduct. See S.C.Code Ann. § 16-3-20(C) (2003
Appellant was sentenced to death on the jury's
recommendation for each count of murder, twenty years consecutive on
each count of assault and battery with intent to kill, fifteen years
concurrent for burglary, and five years concurrent on each weapon
possession conviction. This appeal follows.
Appellant drove into the employees' parking lot at
the R.E. Phelon manufacturing plant in Aiken County at about 3 p.m. on
September 15, 1997, as the work shifts were changing. He had been fired
from his job as a machine operator at the plant several weeks earlier.
Appellant did not present a defense. His lawyers' examination of some
plant employees during the trial indicated Appellant may have been upset
because he had not received a promotion from machine operator to the
tool and dye division.
Stanley Vance, the security officer on duty,
testified he believed Appellant had come to pick up his personal
belongings which were stored in the guard station. Appellant exited his
vehicle, walked to the guard station, and shot Vance once in the upper
abdomen with a semi-automatic pistol. During the guilt phase of the
trial, in addition to two security officers, the State presented fifteen
employees as witnesses to the shootings at the plant.
Appellant as the perpetrator. Their testimony, along with the testimony
of law enforcement investigators and the medical examiner, established
the following events: After tearing out telephone lines in the guard
station, Appellant entered the plant's human resources office. He shot
personnel manager Charles Griffeth, age 56, twice in the back, killing
him as he sat at his desk. Appellant held his pistol to the head of a
secretary as he exited Griffeth's office, tore out the secretary's
telephone line, and continued into the plant.
Appellant walked to the tool and dye area where
several employees were working. He fired his pistol repeatedly at the
employees, killing David W. Moore, age 30, and Earnest L. Filyaw, age
31. Lucius Corley and John Mitchell were wounded. Mitchell was shot in
the chest, and suffered extensive and severe internal injuries which
required multiple surgical procedures.
Appellant walked toward another
area of the plant as employees, who gradually had become aware of the
shootings in the plant, fled the building. He shot Cheryl Wood, age 27,
in the back and leg as she stood near a doorway. She was fatally shot
after she fell to the floor, described by the prosecutor as an execution-style
Appellant continued firing his pistol at other
employees in other areas of the plant. Witnesses observed Appellant
reload his pistol several times as he progressed through the plant.
Investigators recovered four empty, eight-round magazines at the scene,
plus four full magazines and 123 additional rounds in Appellant's
possession. Some witnesses related Appellant was "screaming something"
unintelligible during the shootings.
Appellant walked to an upstairs office, shooting
through glass windows and doors. He entered an office, lay down on the
floor, and swallowed or attempted to swallow an insecticide. Police
found Appellant lying there semi-conscious, arrested him, and
transported him to a hospital.
The trial judge ruled Appellant competent
to stand trial. Appellant did not present witnesses or evidence during
the guilt or sentencing phases of the trial. He refused before trial to
identify for his attorneys family or friends as favorable witnesses.
During the sentencing phase, Appellant refused to allow his attorneys to
call thirteen mitigation witnesses to present evidence that life
imprisonment without parole was the appropriate sentence.
Appellant's refusal prompted the trial judge to again
have Appellant examined during the trial by a psychiatrist, who again
testified Appellant was competent. Although his attorneys had evidence
of the presence of the hallucinogenic drug LSD in his body when the
shootings occurred, Appellant told the judge "I was in total control of
my faculties at the time."
ISSUES I. Did the trial judge err in excusing a
potential juror for cause during individual voir dire without allowing
defense counsel to examine her about personal religious beliefs that
would preclude her from finding Appellant guilty of the crimes charged?
II. Did the trial judge err in refusing to allow a surviving victim,
called by the State to provide victim-impact evidence, to testify on
cross-examination that he previously had stated Appellant should not
receive the death penalty?
I. Individual voir dire issue
Appellant argues the trial judge erred in excusing a
potential juror (Juror) for cause during individual voir dire without
first permitting his lawyers to personally examine her. Appellant
contends the judge did not have the discretion to excuse Juror. We
Juror was the fourth venireman examined during
individual voir dire. Responding to questions from the trial judge,
Juror testified she would accept and apply the law as instructed by the
court. She testified she could find a defendant not guilty in a criminal
case; however, she could not find a defendant guilty. Juror testified
she was a member of the "Holiness" religion, did not believe in judging
anyone, and would be unable under any circumstances to find a defendant
guilty. Juror testified, "I mean, they could be guilty but I'm not going
to sit on the jury stand and say that they're guilty because it's not
right to say whether they're guilty or not."
The judge and attorneys
discussed Juror's responses outside her presence. The judge requested
Appellant's attorneys suggest questions he might ask Juror. No questions
were suggested, but Appellant's attorneys requested an opportunity to
examine and possibly rehabilitate Juror by clarifying her responses. The
judge denied the request, but examined her further about the source of
Juror testified her beliefs were personal, and she was
unaware of any pastoral counseling or similar program she could undergo
in order to sit in judgment of another person. Juror testified she could
not find someone guilty in "so serious as this case is" and she did not
"want to have [any] part in saying what, you know, where he's going to
be at, you know."
The judge excused Juror for cause over defense
counsel's objection, relying primarily on State v. Tucker, 334 S.C. 1,
512 S.E.2d 99 (1999). "The presiding judge shall determine whether any
juror is disqualified or exempted by law and only he shall disqualify or
excuse any juror as may be provided by law." S.C.Code Ann. § 14-7-1010 (Supp.2003).
The authority and responsibility of the trial court is to focus the
scope of the voir dire examination as set forth in S.C.Code Ann.
14-7-1020 (Supp.2003). State v. Hill, 331 S.C. 94, 103, 501 S.E.2d 122,
127 (1998) (citing State v. Plath, 281 S.C. 1, 313 S.E.2d 619 (1984)). A
capital defendant has the right to examine jurors through counsel
pursuant to S.C.Code Ann. 16-3-20(D) (Supp.2003), but that statute does
not enlarge the scope of voir dire permitted under Section 14-7-1020.
The scope of voir dire and the manner in which it is conducted
generally are left to the sound discretion of the trial judge. Id. (citing
State v. Smart, 278 S.C. 515, 299 S.E.2d 686 (1982), overruled on other
grounds by State v. Torrence, 305 S.C. 45, 406 S.E.2d 315 (1991)).
FN2. Section 14-7-1020 provides: The court shall, on
motion of either party in the suit, examine on oath any person who is
called as a juror to know whether he is related to either party, has any
interest in the cause, has expressed or formed any opinion, or is
sensible of any bias or prejudice therein, and the party objecting to
the juror may introduce any other competent evidence in support of the
objection. If it appears to the court that the juror is not indifferent
in the cause, he must be placed aside as to the trial of that cause and
another must be called.
Section 16-3-20(D) provides: Notwithstanding the
provisions of Section 14-7-1020, in cases involving capital punishment a
person called as a juror must be examined by the attorney for the
"Voir dire examination serves the dual purposes of
enabling the court to select an impartial jury and assisting counsel in
exercising peremptory challenges." Mu'Min v. Virginia, 500 U.S. 415,
431, 111 S.Ct. 1899, 1908, 114 L.Ed.2d 493, 509 (1991). A capital
defendants right to voir dire, while grounded in statutory law, also is
rooted in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution. See id.; Morgan v. Illinois, 504 U.S. 719, 729, 112 S.Ct.
2222, 2230, 119 L.Ed.2d 492, 503 (1992).
To be constitutionally
compelled, it is not enough that a question may be helpful. Rather, the
trial court's failure to ask or allow a question must render the
defendant's trial fundamentally unfair. Mu'Min, 500 U.S. at 425, 111
S.Ct. at 1905, 114 L.Ed.2d at 506; State v. Tucker, 334 S.C. 1, 10, 512
S.E.2d 99, 103 (1999).
An appellate court will not disturb the trial court's
disqualification of a prospective juror when there is a reasonable basis
from which the trial court could have concluded the juror would not have
been able to faithfully discharge his responsibilities as a juror under
the law. Tucker, 334 S.C. at 11, 512 S.E.2d at 104 (citing State v.
Green, 301 S.C. 347, 392 S.E.2d 157 (1990)).
We conclude the trial judge properly excused Juror
for cause. Section 14-7-1010 requires the judge determine whether a
juror is disqualified or exempted by law, a determination that may be
made before parties are given an opportunity to examine the juror in a
death penalty case. A juror who testifies she would not be able to find
a criminal defendant guilty under any circumstances is disqualified by
law. Such a person may not be seated because she would be unable to
fulfill her duties as a juror or apply the law as it is given to her by
the court. See also State v. Plath, 281 S.C. 1, 5, 313 S.E.2d 619, 621
(1984) (court repeatedly has said test of juror's qualification under
Section 16-3-20 is ability to both reach a verdict of either guilt or
innocence and, if necessary, to vote for death sentence).
the trial judge's excusal of Juror is supported by Tucker, supra. In
that case, the trial court excused for cause a juror, a Jehovah's
Witness, because the juror stated he could not sit in judgment without
undergoing religious counseling that might take four days. The juror was
excused during the general qualifying of the jury pool. We rejected the
argument that the excusal improperly prevented defense counsel from
rehabilitating the juror during individual voir dire as to his views on
the death penalty and the special circumstances which might allow him to
sit as a juror.
We found the trial court properly excluded the juror
because his religious beliefs which prohibit judging another person
would prevent or substantially impair the performance of juror's duties;
therefore, a reasonable basis existed in support of the trial court's
excusal of the juror for cause. Tucker, 334 S.C. at 10-11, 512 S.E.2d at
In the present case, the trial judge's lengthy
colloquy with Juror revealed she would be unable to return a verdict of
guilty under any circumstances. Her belief she should not sit in
judgment of another rendered her incapable of fulfilling her basic
responsibilities as a juror, and would have prevented or substantially
impaired the performance of her duties as a juror. Consequently, a
reasonable basis existed for the trial judge's excusal for cause of
Juror. See Sections 14-7-1010 and -1020; Tucker, supra; Plath, supra.
Furthermore, we conclude her excusal for cause did not render
Appellant's trial fundamentally unfair. See Mu'Min, supra; Tucker, supra.
Appellant argues we should find State v. Atkins, 293 S.C. 294, 360 S.E.2d
302 (1987), overruled on other grounds by Torrence, supra, to be
controlling, not Tucker. In Atkins, the trial court excused four
potential jurors for cause, without allowing counsel for either side to
examine them, after concluding they were opposed to the death penalty.
We emphasized in Atkins that case law and the
mandatory language of Section 16-3-20(D) "make it clear that the trial
courts discretion does not extend so far as to authorize it to refuse
counsel the right to conduct any examination at all in a capital case.
When our legislature has seen fit to enact special statutory
requirements to be followed in death penalty cases, the courts should
endeavor to see that these are strictly followed." Atkins, 293 S.C. at
297, 360 S.E.2d at 304.
We explained in Atkins that further examination
by counsel might reveal the juror would be able to subordinate his
personal views and apply the law of the state. The error could not be
deemed harmless as the defendant was sentenced to death; therefore, we
reversed and remanded for a new penalty phase proceeding. Id; see also
State v. Owens, 277 S.C. 189, 192, 284 S.E.2d 584, 586 (1981) (finding
error in trial courts dismissal of two potential jurors for cause,
without allowing defense counsel to examine them, when jurors indicated
opposition to death penalty, although issue was moot because defendant
was given a life sentence). Atkins is distinguishable on two grounds.
First, the juror qualification issue in Atkins was the ability of jurors
to consider both the death penalty and life imprisonment. In the present
case, the qualification issue was whether Juror believed she could sit
on a jury in judgment of another person at all. Her comments and belief
she could never find someone guilty in such a serious case disqualified
her, at a more fundamental level than the jurors in Atkins, to serve.
See Plath, supra.
Second, it is clear from this record that further
examination of Juror would have been unlikely to reveal she could
subordinate her views and apply the law of the state. Juror
unequivocally and repeatedly stated during thorough examination by the
trial judge she would be unable to find the defendant guilty. In fact,
Appellant's attorneys were given an opportunity to suggest additional
questions to the trial judge, but suggested none. Nevertheless, the
trial judge after conferring with counsel examined Juror further to
ascertain the basis of her beliefs.
Appellant also contends Tucker is distinguishable
because Juror was excused during individual voir dire, while the juror
in Tucker was excused during the general juror qualification process.
This distinction is unpersuasive because the basic requirement of
ensuring a juror is qualified and able to render a fair and just verdict
to either party based on the facts and the law applies throughout the
jury selection process.
We do not intend, by this decision or the
decision in Tucker, to dilute the mandate of Section 16-3-20(D) as
expressed in Atkins, supra. When the record reveals a juror plainly is
not qualified, after thorough examination by the trial judge, to serve
and it does not reasonably appear further examination would likely
reveal the juror could subordinate his views and apply the law of the
state, a reasonable basis exists for excusal for cause of the juror
without further examination by defense counsel. Accordingly, the trial
judge did not err and properly exercised his discretion in excusing
Juror for cause.
II. Cross-examination of victim impact witness
Appellant contends the trial judge erred by refusing
to allow a surviving victim to testify on cross-examination during the
sentencing phase of the trial that he did not personally believe
appellant should receive the death penalty. We disagree.
officer Vance testified during both the guilt and sentencing phases of
the trial. Vance was shot once in the upper abdomen by Appellant,
resulting in temporary paralysis in his legs, rendering him totally
disabled, unable to work. Vance testified he suffers constant, intense
pain requiring daily medications. He has weekly psychiatric appointments
and has been diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress
disorder. Vance testified he knew Appellant only by sight and had little
or no interaction with him on the job. During cross-examination in the
Appellant's attorney attempted to question Vance about
a statement he made to a newspaper reporter shortly after the shootings,
in which Vance reportedly said Appellant should not receive the death
penalty. The trial judge sustained the State's objection and did not
allow the testimony. The judge earlier had refused to allow Appellant to
question Vance about the same alleged statement to the media during the
guilt phase, as it was irrelevant. This ruling obviously was proper.
Appellant now challenges only the ruling during the penalty phase.
A capital defendant is prohibited from directly
eliciting the opinion of family members or other penalty-phase witnesses
about the appropriate penalty. Such questions go to the ultimate issue
to be decided by the jury-- life in prison versus the death penalty--and
are properly reserved for determination by the jury. State v. Matthews,
296 S.C. 379, 393, 373 S.E.2d 587, 595 (1988) (affirming exclusion of
family members' opinion about appropriate penalty and what effect the
death penalty would have on them, although defendant could show no
prejudice because his mother expressed her opinion to jury despite
judge's ruling); State v. Adams, 277 S.C. 115, 283 S.E.2d 582 (1981) (whether
death penalty should be imposed is an ultimate issue reserved for jurys
determination), overruled on other grounds by Torrence, supra.
Similarly, a capital defendant may not present a
penalty-phase witness to testify explicitly what verdict the jury "ought"
to reach. Torrence, 305 S.C. at 51, 406 S.E.2d at 319. A capital
defendant may not present witnesses merely to testify of their religious
or philosophical attitudes about the death penalty. Id.   On the
other hand, a capital defendant may present witnesses who know and care
for him, and who are willing on that basis to plead with the jury for
mercy on his behalf. Thus, a close relative of a defendant, such as his
mother, may make a general plea for mercy for the life of her son.
Torrence, 305 S.C. at 51, 406 S.E.2d at 319.
A close relative of a
defendant, such as his sister, may be asked whether she wants the
defendant to die, which is akin to asking her to make a general plea for
mercy and not explicitly directed toward eliciting her opinion of what
verdict the jury should reach. State v. Johnson, 338 S.C. 114, 125-127,
525 S.E.2d 519, 524-525 (2000) (while trial court erred in limiting
sister's testimony, defendant was not prejudiced because sister was able
to make a general plea for mercy on his behalf and clearly expressed her
love and affection for him).
We are unpersuaded by Appellant's
argument he should have been allowed to cross-examine Vance pursuant to
Torrence and Johnson. We accept as true the proffer by Appellant's
attorney Vance would testify he told the media shortly after the
shootings he did not personally believe Appellant should receive the
However, such a statement by Vance would not constitute a
plea for mercy on behalf of Appellant. Instead, it would constitute
Vance's opinion of what verdict--life in prison versus the death penalty--the
jury should reach. Accordingly, the trial judge properly disallowed the
question, recognizing it was an attempt to elicit an inadmissible
opinion from a witness. See Matthews, 296 S.C. at 393, 373 S.E.2d at
As required, we conduct a proportionality review of
Appellants death sentence. S.C.Code Ann. 16-3-25(C) (2003). The United
States Constitution prohibits the imposition of the death penalty when
it is either excessive or disproportionate in light of the crime and the
defendant. State v. Copeland, 278 S.C. 572, 590, 300 S.E.2d 63, 74
(1982). In conducting a proportionality review, we search for similar
cases in which the death sentence has been upheld. Id.; S.C.Code Ann.
After reviewing the entire record, we
conclude the death sentence was not the result of passion, prejudice, or
any other arbitrary factor, and the jurys finding of statutory
aggravating circumstances for each of the four murders is supported by
the evidence. Furthermore, a review of prior cases shows the death
sentence in this case is proportionate to that in similar cases and is
neither excessive nor disproportionate to the crime. See State v. Shuler,
353 S.C. 176, 577 S.E.2d 438 (2003) (death penalty warranted for
defendant convicted of murders of former live-in lover, lovers thirteen
year-old daughter, and lovers mother; aggravating circumstances included
two or more persons were murdered pursuant to one scheme or course of
conduct, and murder was committed during commission of burglary); State
v. Wilson, 306 S.C. 498, 413 S.E.2d 19 (1992) (death penalty warranted
where defendant was convicted of two counts of murdering two
schoolchildren, eight counts of assault and battery with intent to kill,
one count of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, and
one count of illegally carrying a firearm in shootings at an elementary
school); State v. Hughey, 339 S.C. 439, 529 S.E.2d 721 (2000) (death
penalty warranted where defendant shot and killed former girlfriend and
another woman in a home); State v. Rosemond, 335 S.C. 593, 518 S.E.2d
588 (1999) (death penalty warranted where defendant shot and killed
former girlfriend and her young daughter in their home); State v. Reed,
332 S.C. 35, 503 S.E.2d 747 (1998) (death penalty warranted where
defendant shot and killed both parents of his former girlfriend).