ST. MATTHEWS — No grudges will be held against David Benjamin or his family after he was sentenced to 40 years in prison for killing 23-year-old Dominique Lawton.
“We are sorry for the situation that happened,” Karen Stokes, Lawton’s sister, told the court Thursday. “We are not going to have hatred against them.”
As Stokes spoke of forgiveness, Benjamin nodded in what appeared to be a gesture of appreciation.
The 27-year-old Orangeburg man has been on trial this week for his part in the 2011 nightclub shooting that was described this week by witnesses as “chaotic” and a “rain of fire.”
A jury took just under three hours to decide Benjamin fired the fatal shot from a .45-caliber handgun that struck Lawton in the forehead.
Circuit Court Judge Diane Goodstein sentenced Benjamin to 40 years for Lawton’s murder. He will serve it at the same time as two 30-year sentences for wounding two others during the melee.
Decorated and former U.S. Army Sgt. Josh Haggood, 26, struck a deal to provide testimony against Benjamin. While he had been charged with murder and two counts of attempted murder, he pleaded guilty to a charge of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.
While jurors considered the case against Benjamin, Goodstein sentenced Haggood to seven years in prison, which is to be served at the same time as a Lexington County sentence of 10 years for an unrelated assault.
The case against a third man charged in the shooting, 27-year-old Kevin Frasier of Orangeburg, has not gone to court yet. Frasier was also charged with murder and two counts of attempted murder.
Prosecutor Don Sorenson told jurors this week that Frasier was being charged under the state’s “hand of one, hand of all” law.
The state believes that Frasier fired several shots in the air, which started the gunfire that killed Lawton and left two club-goers with serious but non-fatal injuries.
Sorenson and prosecutor Ted Lupton introduced a line of witnesses who told a story of “alcohol and egos” that stemmed from a dance floor bump in the early morning hours of Sept. 18, 2011.
While Benjamin was the triggerman who shot Lawton, prosecutors claim the three defendants conspired together after the dance floor confrontation.
Haggood testified that when he asked Benjamin what he wanted to do after the mishap, Benjamin said he didn’t want to be caught “slipping,” or unarmed. The three then went to their car and each retrieved a gun, Benjamin a .45-caliber handgun.
When the Community Park Road club closed just before 4 a.m., Lawton stepped out brandishing a handgun. Prosecutors claim it was at or around that point that Frasier pulled out a .32-caliber revolver and fired several shots into the air.
The club parking lot was then turned into a shooting gallery.
Investigators said they found at least 13 spent shell casings in the parking lot of the Piggy Park nightclub near Elloree. They pointed out that would be in addition to the shots fired from Frasier’s weapon, which would not have left casings.
Defense attorney Nick Thomas offered Antonio Gidron, another witness at the club who said he saw Lawton go down. Gidron testified Benjamin didn’t do the shooting.
After both sides ended their testimony and out of the jury’s presence, Thomas asked for a directed verdict of not guilty, saying the state hadn’t proven its case.
Goodstein declined that motion, saying there was enough evidence for the jury to find Benjamin guilty on all counts.
After the verdicts were read, Thomas told the court his client realizes “alcohol and guns don’t mix” but maintains he is not the one who shot and killed Lawton.
“The words of Dominique Lawton’s family were very kind,” he said. “We just ask for mercy.”
The four-day trial almost ended on the second day when an alternate juror recognized a member of Benjamin’s family. That juror then told the foreperson there had been an altercation between the two families.
Goodstein said the “integrity” of the two jurors allowed her to “preserve” the trial by excusing both jurors. An alternate juror was then made foreperson.
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