Jury begins deliberations in Florence murder trial
Apr 11, 2012 (Florence Morning News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
FLORENCE, S.C. -- The jury in the trial of the Florence teenager accused of murder in a double shooting at a local pawn shop that claimed the life of a beloved local musician last year began deliberations at about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Just minutes after the state rested its case against now 18-year-old Tavario D. Brunson on Tuesday, Brunson informed the judge he wanted to testify on his own behalf.
But on Wednesday morning, Brunson decided not to testify, and closing arguments began.
Brunson, of 1220 Lockhaven Road in Florence, is on trial in Florence this week for murder, attempted murder, armed robbery and possession of a weapon during a violent crime in an April 12, 2011, robbery at Rick's Pawn Shop on U.S. 52/West Lucas Street that left 33-year-old Stephen Christopher Deaver dead and 37-year-old Donna Robinson wounded.
Had Brunson testified, it would not have been the first time jurors heard from him.
Earlier Tuesday afternoon, jurors listened to a recorded statement the defendant gave to police in the hours after the shooting.
In that recording, Brunson gives a detailed account of what happened at Rick's Pawn Shop that evening.
During the recorded interview with Florence Police Sgt. Lee Davis, Brunson said he went to the store just before closing that night to rob it. He said when he walked in the store -- wearing latex gloves with a gun in one hand and a trashbag he took from his grandmother's house in the other -- he thought he saw Deaver reaching for "something."
"So I shoot -- bang, bang -- then I went over to her (Robinson) and told her to get down on the ground. I thought she was reaching for something so I shot her," Brunson said in the interview played for jurors. "I didn't know what would happen when I walked out that door so I shot 'em both."
When asked if he knew Deaver was dead when he left the store, Brunson said, "I didn't pay attention. I shot twice. He dropped. I didn't want to see it."
He went on to describe how after he left the shop, the trashbag he filled with stolen merchandise soon burst as he was walking so he grabbed a bucket out of somebody's backyard to try to gather up the jewelry and currency. Eventually, Brunson said, he tossed the gun and the bucket in his attempt to get out of the area before police got to him. He said he also stripped off two shirts -- one black and one white -- and disposed of them.
Brunson was apprehended in north Florence, near Stackley Street, soon after the shooting, according to several Florence police officers who testified Monday. Officers said they recovered some of the items connected to the crime from Brunson's pockets at the time of his arrest, including some jewelry and a pair of blue latex gloves the gunman is seen wearing in the store's surveillance video.
Officers recovered two shirts matching that description -- one from a tree and one from a recycling bin along the path Brunson took from the pawn shop. State Law Enforcement Division Agent Mary Ann Boehm, a serology and DNA expert, testified Tuesday that DNA found on one of the shirts Brunson disposed of that night tested positive for his DNA as well as Deaver's.
The recycling bin also contained jewelry with tags from Rick's attached to them.
When asked why he planned to rob the pawn shop, Brunson said he did it to help his family.
"I was trying to help my family," he said. "They were struggling. Money was short."
Davis, who testified before the approximately 10-minute recording was played, said the entire interview with Brunson lasted about three hours. He said Brunson did not immediately confess to the crime, adding that suspects in crimes rarely, if ever, do.
"At first, he said he wasn't there, that he had been mowing the grass at his grandma's, that he'd been with his girlfriend," Davis testified.
"But after awhile, we knew he wasn't telling the truth so I asked him to walk me through what happened at the pawn shop," Davis said. "After he cried for about 10 minutes or so, he told me. He said, 'I walked in and I bust and I bust, which is street slang for shooting a gun."
Davis said Brunson even made a hand motion as if shooting a gun as he was recounting what happened. He also later voluntarily led officers to the location where he thought he tossed the gun, but the gun was never recovered.
At the conclusion of the state's witness list, jurors viewed the security surveillance video from the pawn shop.
The video, which did not contain audio, corroborated the testimony earlier this week from Robinson -- the survivor of the shooting.
An armed man wearing a skull cap and bandana on his face can be seen walking into the pawn shop and immediately opening fire on Deaver. He later approaches Robinson, who is cowered behind the counter, and aims the gun at her, pointing her toward the jewelry cases. As the two pass by the wounded Deaver, the gunman stops, puts his gun to the back of Deaver's head and fires again.
In her testimony earlier this week, Robinson said she began taking jewelry out of cases and putting them in the gunman's trashbag as directed but he grew angry with her, admonishing her for being "too slow." Soon, she said, he was helping her shovel jewelry out of the trays and into the bag. Robinson said in addition to jewelry, she also surrendered the money from the cash register to the gunman. After that, she said he ordered her to the floor.
"He got mad at me -- I guess for stalling and started cursing at me to get down on the floor," Robinson said. "I knew if I put my head down he was gonna shoot me."
"So what did you do?" 12th Circuit Solicitor Ed Clements III asked.
"I kept raising up and trying to change his mind. Then, I put my head down, and he shot me," Robinson replied. "He shot me in the head. The bullet came down my face and took my eye."
Robinson said she didn't immediately feel pain but could feel the blood on her face.
"I held my breath and pretended I was dead so he wouldn't shoot me again," Robinson said.
"I heard him shuffling around the store. Then I heard the bell ring on the door, and I knew he was gone," she said. "I could feel myself bleeding, and I was dizzy. I couldn't stand up. I could only crawl, so I crawled to get the phone and my gun. I called 911 and laid on the floor and held on to my gun in case he came back."
If convicted, Brunson faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. Because he was 17 when the crime was committed, he is not eligible for the death penalty under South Carolina law.
Stay with the scnow.com, the Morning News and WBTW News13 as we provide you exclusive coverage of the trial.
___ (c)2012 the Florence Morning News (Florence, S.C.) Visit the Florence
Morning News (Florence, S.C.) at www2.scnow.com/community/morningnews
Distributed by MCT Information Services
[ Back To TMCnet.com's Homepage ]