Trial for suspect accused of helping murder 16-year-old begins in Edgefield

By: Carter Coyle Email
By: Carter Coyle Email

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012

EDGEFIELD, S.C. -- The trial for one of six people accused of involvement in the murder of 16-year-old Samuel Sturrup began in Edgefield County Wednesday.

Defendant Alexander Hunsberger is represented by Defense Attorney Michael Chesser.

Frank Young of the Solicitor's Office offered opening arguments on behalf of the prosecution team Wednesday.

Judge Clifton Newman is presiding over the case.

The so-called "mastermind" of the Sturrup murder, Steven Barnes, has already been sentenced to a life imprisonment in Georgia for kidnapping. He was later also convicted of Sturrup's murder in Edgefield County, sentenced to death in November 2010. Investigators say, in addition, they uncovered Barnes as the leader of a prostitution ring in Augusta.

A jury pool was narrowed down to 14 Edgefield County residents; two are alternates. Opening arguments began after noon.

Young said the jury will be hearing a story about a teenage boy, Sturrup, who was missing for weeks and months before parts of his body were finally found. The state alleges Hunsberger played a significant role in choosing the location of the murder and helping execute Sturrup, then assisting in the cover-up of the crime.

Chesser warned the jury they will hear a complicated tale involving many "subtleties and nuances" but emphasizes his client is not the person who actually fired the deadly shot into Sturrup's head, ultimately killing him. Chesser alludes Barnes is the only true murderer and his threats against the other suspects were so powerful they had no choice but go along with the crime.

He also claimed Julio Hunsberger, the defendant's brother, will also be mentioned. He said the jury must separate the testimony and evidence they hear against Julio from their opinion of Alex. He says just like in reality, "you can not hold one brother responsible for the actions of the other."

Grover Dais testified that he found a skull on his property in November 2001 and called the Edgefield Sheriff's Office to investigate. He testified that there was a small hole in the skull he believed to be a gunshot wound. Investigator Randy Doran, who lead the investigation of the remains, testified that he found more remains, a pair of blue jeans, keys and a belt buckle that said "Samuel" on it.

After calling Aiken and Richmond County Sheriff's Offices asking about any missing people named "Samuel," Doran eventually tracked down Sturrup's mother in Augusta, who had filed the report that her son had been missing since Labor Day 2001.

Doran asked SLED to assist with the investigation in January 2002, and they helped locate more evidence.

Hunsberger was arrested in January of 2002. Richmond County Investigators busted Barnes for leading a prostitution ring in Augusta in January of 2002. A woman named Charlene Thatcher was also arrested at that time, accused of involvement in both the prostitution ring and with Sturrup's murder.

The prosecution called Richard Cave to the stand. Cave admitted he was involved in the kidnapping and shooting of Sturrup.

Already sentenced to 18 years in Georgia, Cave took the stand in an orange prison jumpsuit and said he witnessed Barnes and Sturrup fighting about money on the day of the murder. Sturrup insisted he did not have Barnes' money.

At some point, Barnes allegedly called the Hunsberger brothers to come to his home. Cave claimed Sturrup was locked in the trunk of the Hunsbergers' vehicle, and the group of six suspects split into two cars, following the Hunsbergers into South Carolina. He detailed how they hopped over fences and eventually made their way to a field where Barnes demanded they each shoot Sturrup "so they would all be dirty" and not tell anyone about the crime.

"Sam started crying and pleading for his life," Cave testified. "Then Steven pulled a gun."

The witness said they all followed Barnes' orders because he threatened to kill them if they did not shoot 16-year-old Sturrup.

Sturrup's mother, Shirley, sat in the courtroom all day and slowly shook her head during parts of Cave's testimony.

Cave then claimed the Hunsbergers led the group to a trailer home, opened the door with a key and led them inside. The Hunsberger brothers allegedly went to the back of the home and had a private conversation with Barnes. Barnes apparently came back out and questioned the other three suspects about how they were feeling. Cave said he told Barnes, "I'm fine."

The witness said their group then ditched the weapons over a bridge into the Savannah River.

Chesser also questioned Cave about previous testimonies he'd given and the role the Hunsbergers, specifically Alex, actually played in the murder.

Testimonies for the day wrapped up just before 6 p.m. Wednesday. News 12 will continue to cover the Hunsberger trial this week online and on air.

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