NOTABLE CASES

Trip Riesen has represented victims and their families in many types of personal injury cases. He brings to each case a wealth of knowledge, experience, expertise and understanding. Trip also has many notable criminal law cases he prosecuted while working for the Ninth Circuit Solicitor’s Office in Charleston as noted below. As a criminal defense attorney, Trip uses his prior prosecutorial experience to evaluate the case not just as a defense attorney but also through the lens of law enforcement and prosecutors alike.

PERSONAL INJURY

Mr. Riesen recovered a settlement of $250,000 for a client whose vehicle was hit head-on by a drunk driver, arguing that the value of the case was based on what a jury would likely award in punitive damages rather than the client’s modest medical bills alone. The settlement was almost 10 times the value of the medical bills.

Mr. Riesen settled an automobile accident case for $325,000. The client had been a loyal customer with the same insurance company for over 30 years. Nevertheless, the insurance company sought to minimize what was owed to their insured. Prior to Mr. Riesen’s involvement, the insurance company had argued that the client was entitled to $25,000 in liability coverage only. The insurance company told the client she was not entitled to additional $300,000 of underinsured motorist coverage because she had rejected the coverage some twenty (20) years earlier. Mr. Riesen was able to successfully show that the insurance carrier was wrong in asserting that his client rejected the additional underinsured motorist coverage and as a result the insurance company was forced to reform their policy and pay out the maximum underinsured motorist limits of $300,000 in addition to the $25,000 received from the bodily injury recovery.

A client was injured in an automobile accident while on the job. A workers compensation claim was filed and the client received a settlement. Upon conclusion of the workers compensation settlement, Mr. Riesen was able to successfully pursue a third party negligence claim against the at fault driver and reach a settlement of $233,000.

In 2012, Mr. Riesen tried an automobile accident case in Charleston County. The insurance carrier and defense counsel dug their heels in and were only offering basically twice the value of the medical bills. The jury’s verdict was almost 12 times the value of the medical bills.

In 2013, Mr. Riesen had an automobile accident jury trial in Charleston Count
y where he received a punitive damages award due to the fact that the defendant ran a red light while texting and listening to his iPod. During settlement negotiations, the insurance carrier made the comment “texting is not illegal so I do not think a jury will award punitive damages.” At the time, texting was not illegal, however, Mr. Riesen successfully argued to the jury that to award punitive damages you must find the defendant acted recklessly, not necessarily illegally. He argued that if the jurors who speak for the community find that texting and listening to an iPod is acceptable and not reckless then they should not award a penny in punitive damages, however, if this behavior is unacceptable and reckless then consider punitive damages. The jury agreed with Mr. Riesen rather than the insurance adjuster and awarded punitive damages. The award was significantly more than had been offered by the insurance carrier.

CRIMINAL DEFENSE

Published on 12/18/09
Staff report

After three hours of deliberation, a Charleston County jury found Bobby Gene Sloan, 60, guilty of voluntary manslaughter for the shooting death of his wife on Christmas Day 2008, the 9th Circuit Solicitor’s Office announced Thursday. Circuit Court Judge Roger M. Young sentenced Sloan to 20 years in prison.

Assistant Solicitors Trip Lawton and Trip Riesen prosecuted the three-day trial. During opening statements, Lawton told the jury that the Georgia couple was visiting family in Charleston for the Christmas holidays.

Darlene Sloan was shot in the forehead as her mother watched. Witnesses testified that Darlene Sloan and her husband began arguing in the car on the way home from a nightclub in North Charleston after getting lost. When they got where were staying on Rutledge Avenue about 2:15 a.m., Sloan got out of the car, grabbed a .38-caliber revolver from the trunk and shot his 50-year-old wife in the head at close range. She died on the scene. Darlene Sloan’s mother, who was standing next to her, testified that she saw the defendant raise his hand toward her daughter shortly before she saw a bright flash. She then saw her daughter fall to the ground. Throughout the trial, the defense argued that the gun accidentally fired after the defendant pulled it to intimidate his wife. The jury returned the guilty verdict about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

“Darlene meant the world to her family. When she died, her son lost a mother and a father. We’re glad the defendant was held accountable for his selfish acts,” Lawton said. “I hope the conviction and sentence will bring Darlene’s mother and son some peace of mind during this difficult holiday season.”

Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said statistics show that the state consistently ranks in the top 10 states for women being killed by men. “We refused the notion of an ‘accident’ being someone threatening their spouse during a heated argument, waving a handgun in their face and putting a bullet in their head,” Wilson said. “Fortunately, the judge and jury did, too.”

Published on 07/30/09
BY GLENN SMITH
The Post and Courier

Prosecutors and police are hailing a 35-year prison sentence that a Lowcountry man received for trying to carjack and shoot a man outside a North Charleston restaurant in December 2007. Circuit Judge Roger Young imposed the sentence this week after a Charleston County jury found 23-year-old Vashaun Ravenel guilty of attempted armed robbery, assault with intent to kill and pointing and presenting a firearm.

Young gave Ravenel the maximum sentence on each count and ordered that the terms be served consecutively, placing him behind bars for more than three decades. Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said the sentence shows that the judge recognized the deficiency in South Carolina’s assault with intent to kill law and required consecutive terms to reflect the gravity of the crime. Though assault with intent to kill equates to attempted murder, the law carries only a 10-year maximum sentence, Wilson said. She and law enforcement officials have pushed lawmakers to significantly increase the penalties for the charge. “The law gives defendants who attempt to kill the benefit of a gun misfiring or an emergency room that does great work,” Wilson said. “The defendant did not deserve the benefit of the law’s loophole. We’re lucky this was not a murder case.” Ravenel’s lawyer, Stephen Harris, said his client maintains his innocence, and an appeal already has been filed.

Ravenel was accused of trying to carjack the manager of Ryan’s Steakhouse on Rivers Avenue on the night of Dec. 29, 2007. The manager told North Charleston police he was walking to his car after closing up when a man in a ski mask approached him with a revolver. When the manager jumped into his car, the gunman raised the revolver to the driver’s side window, aimed it at the manager’s head and pulled the trigger twice, police said. Both times, the gun misfired. The gunman grabbed for the car door, but the manager hit the gas and drove away, authorities said.

Police arrested Ravenel about 20 minutes later at a nearby apartment complex after officers found him with a ski mask and a revolver in his pants. The victim identified him as the robber. At the time, Ravenel was on probation for a second-degree burglary conviction.

A jury on Tuesday deliberated less than a half-hour before finding him guilty. North Charleston Police Chief Jon Zumalt said police were “tremendously pleased” with the outcome of the trial and the sentence, which he believes is justified by the crime.

Published on 03/31/06
BY NOAH HAGLUND
The Post and Courier

Tijuana Gist had just walked down the stairs in front of her apartment Monday morning when someone threw a bucket of liquid on her and her three young children. At first, she thought it was harmless. After she failed to chase down the person who had thrown the fluid, she started to feel a chemical burn on her forehead and heard her 4-year-old daughter Orisha screaming. Police investigating the incident at 130 N. Romney St. said the bucket contained a mixture of lye, a corrosive liquid that can cause severe burning and blindness that is used to make cleaning products, and wax.

“I didn’t even suspect anything,” Gist said Thursday from her apartment. “They threw a bucket of fluid on us. I thought it may have been urine.” The 32-year-old mother had been holding Orisha’s left hand as they reached the bottom of the stairs outside her apartment. It was 7 a.m. and they were on their way to day care. She carried her 1-year-old boy, Christian, on her right shoulder and held a bag of trash in her right hand. Carlos, her 2 1/2-year-old son, was walking just behind her. Gist saw a woman pick up a bucket and throw the fluid. She told police she chased the woman but couldn’t catch up. Some children waiting for a school bus said a woman left in a brown vehicle, she said.

At their apartment Thursday, Orisha appeared in good spirits as she played with her siblings. “She’s strong. She’s getting her energy,” Gist said. “She’s playing with her brothers and her sister. They have to be a little careful, though.” The bubbly little girl was released from the hospital Monday afternoon. But the right side of her face, from her forehead to her mouth, remained heavily blistered Thursday. A pink cast on her thumb covered a third-degree burn. Gist said they will have to consult an eye specialist to check on Orisha’s sight. The mother said her own burns to the face and neck were much less severe.

A thick coat that chilly morning protected her youngest child, Christian; otherwise he could have been hurt, too. “He only has a little burn by the eye,” she said, “so we’re very blessed by that.” Carlos, trailing behind them, was uninjured. In their living room Thursday sat a bag of pullovers and jackets, tattered by holes and discolorations that Gist said were caused by the chemical.

Charleston police had not made any arrests as of Thursday but said the case is under investigation. Gist said the incident might have stemmed from an ongoing dispute with another woman. Out of fear for her children’s safety, she said she now has someone accompany them when they leave the apartment.

Published on 09/19/2009
BY GLENN SMITH
The Post and Courier

Tijuana Thompson-Gist left home and moved out of state to get away from the woman who attacked her and her three youngest children with a bucket of lye three years ago. The memories of that day have been harder to escape.

Her daughter Orisha, who was 4 at the time, bears scars on her face from the corrosive liquid and wears glasses to cope with damaged eyesight. Thompson-Gist takes medicines to cope with fear, anxiety and depression. Every visit to Charleston puts her on edge. Through it all, she has waited patiently for justice to be done. But when her attacker’s day in court finally came Friday, it was Thompson-Gist who asked the judge for leniency, a show of mercy from one mother to another. Thompson-Gist had learned that the suspect, 30-year-old Shawquana Renee Evans, was struggling to care for a seriously ill child. Evans’ 10-month-old son was born with kidney failure and has been in and out of hospitals ever since.

In a letter to the court, Thompson-Gist said she didn’t want to compound a tragic episode by taking a mother away from a sick child in need. Instead, she wanted to offer forgiveness. Evans turned and offered a brief apology to Thompson-Gist. Her attorney, Eduardo Curry, told the judge she is truly sorry for the attack. He urged Circuit Judge Roger Young to place Evans on probation after she pleaded guilty to one count of inflicting great bodily injury and two counts of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.

“Your honor, Ms. Evans embraces the fact that she did wrong,” Curry said. Young said Evans deserved the full 20 years in prison she faced for harming young Orisha, and she likely would have received it if not for Thompson-Gist’s offer of mercy. He handed her a 10-year sentence but suspended all but two years, which she must serve in prison. He also sentenced her to three years probation upon her release. “I don’t want your sins to be visited upon your child, but I cannot give you straight probation for this,” he told Evans.

The attack happened in the breezeway of a North Romney Street apartment on March 27, 2006. Thompson-Gist was taking her children to day care when Evans threw a bucket filled with a lye mixture at them, authorities said. Thompson-Gist initially thought it was urine. She ran after Evans. Then she heard Orisha scream. The mixture of lye and wax blistered Orisha’s face, leaving her with second- and third-degree burns. Thompson-Gist and her 1-year-old son, Christian, also received minor burns, while her 2-year-old son was uninjured.

Assistant Solicitor Trip Riesen told the judge the attack stemmed from a feud of sorts. Evans’ roommate was carrying on an affair with Thompson-Gist’s estranged husband, he said. Thompson-Gist said Evans apparently wanted her out of the way so the affair could continue.

Curry said Evans is not the same woman today. Married with two children, she regularly attends church and works at a Sunoco station. In fact, she showed up in court wearing her blue, red and yellow Sunoco smock. It was unclear whether she had just come from work or had hoped to leave court in time to make her shift. She stared blankly at the floor as sheriff’s deputies led her away to await transport to prison. “It just shows what you sow is what you reap,” Thompson-Gist said as she left the courtroom from the other direction.

Thompson-Gist said she was torn by the day’s events, hopeful for Evans’ child but also feeling a sense of justice served. The past three years have been tough, and the fallout continues. She tries to find the words to explain to Orisha what happened and reassure her that the attack was not aimed at her. She hopes someday she will feel safe again. “I’m just hoping now that me and my family can heal,” she said.

Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or gsmith@postandcourier.com.

On the Web: Read more about the case at postandcourier.com.

Published on 07/11/09
Staff and wire reports

A man with eight prior convictions was sentenced to 30 years in prison this week for trafficking cocaine in the North Charleston area. Stanford Brown, 28, was convicted following a three-day trial at the Charleston County Judicial Center. He was sentenced by Circuit Judge Kristi Harrington.

In May 2007, Brown was accused of selling 13 grams of cocaine to a confidential informant in the area of Remount Road and North Rhett, during what was described as a joint Hanahan Police and Charleston Sheriff’s Office Metro Unit operation.

Brown’s previous convictions include for unlawful possession of a pistol, and cocaine charges, including distribution within proximity of a school.

A Charleston County jury found Tahir Suhail Williams guilty of assault with intent to commit first-degree criminal sexual conduct and criminal domestic violence.

Circuit Judge Kristi L. Harrington sentenced him to five years suspended to two years probation on the first charge and 30 days in jail on the second. The case stemmed from a 2007 incident in which Williams entered the North Charleston home of a woman he had dated off and on and is the mother of his son, said Assistant 9th Circuit Solicitor Trip Riesen, who prosecuted the case with Assistant Solicitor Culver Kidd. Williams assaulted her because he suspected she was cheating on him, Riesen said.

“These cases are extremely hard to prove because they happen behind closed doors and they usually are a ‘he-said, she-said’ scenario,” he said. “It’s really a victory for women who are victims of domestic violence. We’re just glad she came forward.”

Published on 03/30/08
BY GLENN SMITH
The Post and Courier

Jimmy Pritchard has always insisted that he was wrongly accused of killing his common-law wife near their Hollywood home in 1999. He painted himself as a victim after prosecutors threw out murder charges against him for lack of evidence. Now Pritchard is back in jail, accused of more violence against those in his life. His dead wife’s family hopes this turn of events will spur investigators to reopen her case and take another crack at holding someone responsible for her death.

Pritchard, 40, has been in jail since late January, charged with threatening his boss with a knife during an argument over money. He also is accused of beating a girlfriend bloody three years ago at their West Ashley apartment. He skipped bail on that charge in 2006, and had been on the run for delinquent child support.

The family of his deceased wife, Tina Laird, said the charges confirm their claims about Pritchard’s violent nature. They hope his arrest will generate new interest in her case and lead to fresh clues about how Laird ended up stabbed and strangled in the trunk of her car nine years ago.

Her older sister has launched a Web site to gather information and support, and Laird’s aunt is making plans to attend each of Pritchard’s upcoming court appearances. “We’re just trying to see if maybe we can get it back out there and see if someone will grow a conscience and come forward,” sister Angel Laird said. “I’m doing what I believe she would want me to do.”

Pritchard, who has a previous conviction for aggravated assault, swore to his innocence Friday during a tear-filled interview in the Charleston County jail. Pritchard said he never laid a hand on his wife, and the latest charges are nothing more than trumped-up allegations. He just wishes he could convince Laird’s family that he didn’t kill her.

“I will tell her family to their face. I am so sorry they think I did that, but I am not that person,” he said, wiping tears from his eyes. “I don’t know how to convince people other than to tell them: I didn’t kill her. I loved her. … I lost somebody, too, even if they don’t want to see it that way.”

By most accounts, Pritchard and Laird had a stormy relationship during their nine years together, a union that produced three children. Laird’s friends and family said the couple fought regularly. On two occasions in 1995, sheriff’s deputies responded to domestic incidents at the home in which Laird accused Pritchard of hitting her, according to reports.

Suspicion quickly centered on Pritchard after Laird was found slain on July 3, 1999, with a wire hanging from her neck and three stab wounds to her chest. Witnesses told investigators about a series of arguments the couple had the morning Laird died, and statements placed the pair together minutes before authorities think she was killed, sheriff’s deputies said.

Pritchard was charged with murder a month after Laird’s slaying, but prosecutors delayed bringing the case to trial. They hoped to build upon the circumstantial case by gathering more tangible evidence, such as weapons or fingerprints, that could tie Pritchard directly to the crime. When no new evidence emerged, prosecutors quietly shelved the case in 2002 and dropped the charge against Pritchard. But then-Solicitor Ralph Hoisington left open the possibility of reopening the case should new evidence be discovered.

Amanda Laird, the victim’s younger sister, said investigators have since seemed to lose all interest in the case. She said she has passed along various tips to sheriff’s detectives and the solicitor’s office, and begged them to resume their investigation, but to no avail. “It just feels like no one really cares, like it’s over for them,” she said. “They’re done with it, but we’re still living it.”

Sheriff’s Maj. John Clark said he understands the family’s frustration, but investigators believe they had the right man to begin with and are more than willing to look into any new information that arises. “The family wants closure. We’re sympathetic to that.” Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said she also would be anxious to learn of new evidence that could move the case forward.

After the murder charged was dropped, Pritchard went to work as a painter and kept a low profile until August 2005, when he was accused of assaulting a girlfriend at their Memminger Avenue apartment. The 48-year-old woman told deputies that Pritchard dragged her out of bed, beat her up and ransacked the place after she refused to get up and drink with him, according to an arrest affidavit.

His girlfriend was left bruised and bleeding, deputies said. Pritchard, who didn’t deny hitting her, asked a deputy, “Why does the man automatically go to jail when the woman bleeds?” an arrest affidavit stated. He was charged with criminal domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature. Pritchard insists that he only defended himself after his girlfriend attacked him for refusing to help her get drugs. “I didn’t hit women,” he said. “That’s just ridiculous.”

Still, he blew off court, skipped out on bail and soon fell deep in debt on child support, as well, authorities said. Pritchard said he didn’t show up for court because he thought the charge had been dropped. His child support mounted to more than $9,000 after he was beaten and stabbed by two men during a 2006 attack in Summerville.

He went through a long recovery and had trouble finding work afterward, he said. His body still bears ragged scars from the attack. Pritchard said he finally found a job with a painter, only to have the man refuse to pay him for his work. It was during a December disagreement over wages that he allegedly shoved his boss against a wall and threatened to stab him, deputies said. Pritchard maintains that he was falsely accused and that he has several witnesses to back him up.

Pritchard said he doesn’t know why so many bad things keep happening to him, but he has put his faith in the Lord to help him get out of jail, back on his feet and reunited someday with his children, who he is banned from seeing. And he refuses to give in to his accusers. “I am not pleading guilty to nothing I didn’t do.”

Laird’s family is just as determined to see him serve prison time. Her aunt, Claire Smith of West Ashley, plans to attend Pritchard’s upcoming court hearings to let him know the family is watching. “I have to be there. He has just taken so much from us.”

ON THE WEB

To learn more about Tina Laird’s family’s efforts to bring fresh attention to her 1999 killing, go to http://www.myspace.com/justicefortina.

Published 10/20/08
BY GLENN SMITH
The Post and Courier

Jimmy Pritchard always swore he never raised his hand in anger against a woman. But after he pleaded guilty this month to abusing a former girlfriend, his dead wife’s family wonders what other secrets his past might hold.

Pritchard, 40, pleaded guilty to criminal domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature in connection with an incident in which his girlfriend was beaten bloody three years ago at their West Ashley apartment. Pritchard now is serving a 5-year prison term at Kirkland state prison in Columbia.

The family of his deceased wife, Tina Laird, hopes Pritchard’s latest conviction will generate new interest in reopening the investigation into how Laird ended up stabbed and strangled in the trunk of her car nine years ago near the couple’s Hollywood home. Charleston County sheriff’s deputies charged Pritchard with Laird’s 1999 killing, but prosecutors later dropped the case for lack of evidence.

Pritchard has maintained his innocence in the killing and attempted to paint himself as a victim of false accusations. In a tear-filled interview earlier this year, Pritchard told The Post and Courier he had nothing to do with Laird’s death. “I don’t know how to convince people other than to tell them: I didn’t kill her. I loved her,” he said.

But Laird’s family has remained skeptical of Pritchard’s story, and investigators have not wavered in their belief that they charged the right man with the crime to begin with. Amanda Laird, the victim’s younger sister, said her family hopes that those who might have been intimidated to speak out against Pritchard will feel more comfortable coming forward now that he is behind bars. “I think we have a better chance of getting someone to talk now that he is in prison,” she said.

By most accounts, Pritchard and Tina Laird had a stormy relationship during their nine years together, a union that produced three children.

Suspicion quickly centered on Pritchard after Laird was found slain on July 3, 1999, with a wire hanging from her neck and three stab wounds to her chest. Witnesses told investigators about a series of arguments the couple had the morning Laird died, and statements placed the pair together minutes before authorities think she was killed, sheriff’s deputies said. Investigators built a largely circumstantial case against Pritchard, but prosecutors quietly shelved the case in 2002 after authorities couldn’t find more tangible evidence, such as weapons or a fingerprint that could tie Pritchard directly to the crime.

Sheriff’s detectives and 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said they are willing to take another look at the Laird case should new information develop. “But so far, we don’t have that,” Wilson said this week.

Amanda Laird said she and her family will keep digging to uncover new information. In the meantime, they are pleased Pritchard is in prison, even if it isn’t connected with Laird’s death, she said. “Five years is a great start to get some justice,” she said. “But we are nowhere near the end.”