Pernell Thompson showed little emotion during a court hearing Monday in which he was served notice of the state's intention to seek the death penalty against him.
At times he looked down at the ground and once closed his eyes and shook his head slightly when reminded of the method by which Marisha Jeter was killed.
The former Wingate University football player is accused with his wife, Yolanda, of luring 16-year-old Miss Jeter to the YMCA parking lot on Jan. 3 and murdering her. Officers say the couple then took Miss Jeter's body to the Chester County side of the Broad River and threw it in the water. Afterwards, they took the car belonging to the Union County High School cheerleader, honor student and junior class vice president into Chester County and burned it.
Twenty-year-old Thompson stood in front of Circuit Judge Lee Alford with his lawyer, Gerald Wilson of Spartanburg. Thompson was attired in a faded black and white jail issue jumpsuit and sandals, his feet and hands shackled.
Thompson spoke only once during the hearing, when 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett asked him, “Sir, are you Pernell Clayton Thompson Jr?”
“Yes, sir,” Thompson replied.
Brackett read Thompson's murder indictment - that Thompson, acting together with Yolanda Thompson, murdered Miss Jeter, his former girlfriend, by stabbing and cutting her with a knife. Brackett said that the state was seeking the death penalty based on the these aggravating circumstances - the murder was committed during the kidnapping of Miss Jeter, the murder was committed during the commission of the armed robbery of Miss Jeter, the murder was committed during a larceny while armed with a deadly weapon and the murder was committed while Miss Jeter was being physically tortured.
Thompson at this point has only a murder charge against him. Brackett said other charges could be filed against Thompson.
Alford asked Wilson how Thompson wished to be tried and Wilson replied “by jury.” Alford asked how Thompson was pleading and Wilson said, “not guilty.”
Wilson had no comment after the hearing, but said Spartanburg attorney Andy Johnston would assist him in defending Thompson.
South Carolina Court Administration will set the date of the trial and appoint a judge with death penalty case experience to preside over Thompson's trial.
After the hearing, both Miss Jeter's family and Thompson's family met with Brackett.
Miss Jeter's father, Manning Jeter, said he and his family were in agreement with Brackett's decision to seek the death penalty, but he had no further comment.
“Nothing I could say is going to bring my baby back,” he said.
Brackett declined to comment on whether he would seek the death penalty for Yolanda Thompson. Like her husband, she has been held in the Union County Jail since their arrests on Jan. 5. Earlier this year, Yolanda Thompson's lawyer asked that bond be set for her. Circuit Judge John C. Hayes III ruled that bond could not be set because her case was a potential death penalty case. He issued an order saying Mrs. Thompson could seek bond again if the state does not make a decision about seeking the death penalty for her by the one-year anniversary of her arrest.
Brackett said Deputy Solicitor John Anthony will assist him in prosecuting the case.
Brackett, who was elected to a second term in November, said he held off announcing the death penalty decision until after the election because he did not want anyone to think the decision was politically motivated.
He said he took many factors into account when making the decision, including the circumstances of Miss Jeter's murder. He said he consulted with her family.
“With capital trials, the crime is hard enough on the family - but the nature of the trial itself, the length and duration of it and the stress - I always let the family know,” he said. “I always also let them know that death penalty cases are scrutizined more closely on appeal and frequently they are reversed and sent back. Oftentimes a case is tried twice and sometimes three times before anyone is put to death. Then, on the second or third time they might get life.”
Union County's last death penalty trial was in 1998. Wesley Shafer initially was sentenced to death for killing Lockhart Hot Spot clerk Ray Broome in 1997. Seven years later, the verdict was overturned and Shafer is now serving life in prison.