Thomas Grover Rye appears in court for his bond hearing.
(Columbia) -- A man convicted of murder for killing an off-duty law officer who was shooting cats on the man's property should get a new trial.http://www.wltx.com/news/story.aspx?storyid=53420That was the ruling from the state Supreme Court Tuesday.
In its 3-2 ruling that gives Thomas Grover Rye a new trial, the court says the jury was not properly told how to interpret the law.Rye was found guilty by a Richland County jury in 2006 and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Off-duty Beaufort County deputy Robert Odam and some friends were on Rye's property in August 2004 when Odam was killed.
Rye had called 911 and said he had killed a trespasser.
The Associated Press
In retrial, man found not guilty of murder in shooting death of off-duty deputy
By JOHN MONK
The (Columbia) StatePublished Tuesday, October 27, 2009http://www.islandpacket.com/news/local/story/1014680.html
COLUMBIA -- Thomas Grover Rye, who killed an off-duty Beaufort County Sheriff's deputyin a 2004 dispute over dead cats, has been found not guilty of murder.It was the second murder trial in five years for Rye, 63. This time, he walked out of the Richland County courthouse a free man.
He was convicted in the first trial in a case where gun rights, property rights and animal rights collided.
"Our client is absolutely relieved. This is the end of more than five years of anguish," said defense lawyer Dennis Bolt, who with fellow Columbia lawyer Jim Griffin, represented Rye.
The trial lasted six days, and the jury was out more than five hours before returning a verdict late Monday night. Rye testified last week for more than five hours.In the first trial, in 2005, another jury found Rye, a heating and air conditioning technician, guilty of murder in the death of Robert Odam, 22, of Bluffton.
The State Supreme Court overturned his first conviction, after Rye had spent 11 months in prison.
Odam visited was visiting family when he went onto Rye's property in Eastover on Aug. 14, 2004. Odam was carrying a rifle, according to testimony. The property was fenced and posted with No Trespassing signs, according to testimony.
An altercation developed, and Rye, who was carrying a .30 caliber rifle, shot and killed Odam.
Rye claimed self-defense and defense of his house and property.
Assistant 5th circuit solicitor Ted Lupton said, "This was a retrial of what was always a very difficult case."Since the first trial, there have been changes in the law that benefited Mr. Rye. Those changes and other facts led this jury to feel there was reasonable doubt," Lupton said.
"Reasonable doubt" is a legal term used to determine guilt or innocence. If a jury has "reasonable doubt," it must render a not guilty verdict.
In 2007, the S.C. Supreme Court overturned Rye's initial conviction.In its 3-2 decision, the high court said property owners have the right to use "reasonable force" against another person if that person is trespassing. That applies to both someone's house and property, the court said.
In establishing self-defense, the court said, a person has to be in fear of his or her life. But in defending home or property, an owner may use reasonable force to eject the trespasser and does not need to be in fear of his or her life.
The Supreme Court called events surrounding the case "disturbing and bizarre."
In 2004, in the two months prior to Odam's shooting, someone had gone onto Rye's property and shot to death 13 cats and wounded several others, testimony at the trial indicated. A structure on the property also had been broken into and some $600 worth of tools taken.
Rye, who had owned the property 30 years, kept cats he rescued there. He visited the property almost every day and lived elsewhere.On the day of the shooting, Rye had found more dead cats on his property and called 911. Then, hearing gunshots, he grabbed his rifle and ran to where the shots were fired, according to testimony. His intent was to hold the shooter until the deputy arrived.
On encountering Odam at the rear of his property, Rye said, "Put down your gun."
Evidence at the trial indicated Odam refused, saying "I'm not doing anything wrong - you go ahead and put down your gun."
Rye immediately fired and killed Odam. Rye testified he shot Odam because Odam was pointing his gun at him and he feared for his life.
Odam was struck four times from a distance of about 10 feet, testimony indicated. The jury was shown pictures of the body.
Mason Mitchell, a friend of Odam's from Eastover who was on the scene, testified that Odam put down his weapon before being shot and killed.
"The jury had to decide whether they believed Mr. Rye or Odam's friend. They obviously believed Mr. Rye," Bolt said. "They got it right."
Odam's mother-in-law, Genevieve Benton, said she regrets that people won't know more about Odam.
"He was a fabulous guy, a great, caring, fun-loving kid. He was 22, and worked two jobs. He took great care of my daughter, and they were buying a house. They're making him out to be some kind of animal.
"I thought the solicitor's office did a much better job in the first trial," Benton said. "This is really sad."
Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said of the retrial verdict: "The outcome is not what they wanted or expected, but our thoughts are with the family."
Odam had been a Beaufort County deputy for about two years at the time of his death, Tanner said. Odam was a 2000 graduate of Hilton Head High School and patrolled the Bluffton area.
"Everyone that worked with him liked him, respected him and thought very highly of him," Tanner said.
Nancy Odam, Odam's mother, said the verdict was a painful end to a years-long process that repeatedly has traumatized the family.
The family, she said, was "completely shocked" by the outcome.
She said she is concerned the case could set a precedent that could allow killers who claim they were defending their property to go free."It's the worst travesty of justice that has ever been displayed in a courtroom," she said. "My son died a senseless, cold-blooded death, and nobody's paying for it."
Island Packet reporter Josh McCann contributed to this report.
If the asshole wasn't on someone else's property jeewhiz the senlessness would be a non-issue.
Thanks evolve. I was stationed in Beautiful Beaufort by the sea. Loved it, but hated all but a couple of the cops there.