Hearing results in reduced charges | News | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | February 15, 2018 5:00 am
Last Updated: February 14, 2018 at 1:37 pm
A nearly 90-minute preliminary hearing on the criminal charges against Ralph Stair ended the afternoon of Feb. 13 with the leader of the Overcomer Ministry still facing eight charges.
But after hearing the testimony of Colleton County Sgt. Edward Marcurella Jr., the lone witness, Colleton County Magistrate Kenneth A. Campbell ruled several of the charges decreased in severity.
Stair was not required to be at the preliminary hearing and did not attend the court session.
On Dec. 18, Stair, the religious compound at 12680 Augusta Highway, was arrested by the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office on three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and single counts of assault with the intent to commit criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping, second-degree assault, first-degree burglary, and third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor.
Two of the three criminal sexual conduct charges were decreased from first-degree to third-degree during the hearing. Campbell ruled that while there was probable cause for the charges to be filed, they did not meet the requirements to make them first degree.
Hunter Swanson, the lead prosecutor with the 14th Circuit Solicitor Office’s Special Victim Unit, argued successfully that the one first-degree criminal sexual conduct remaining, be unchanged. She pointed out that Stair had also been charged with burglary in connection with that incident, a fact that allowed it to be a first-degree offense.
On Jan. 25, Stair appeared before 14th Circuit Count Judge Perry Buckner for a bond hearing and had bond on the charges set at $750,000, The bond also contained a variety of conditions, including restricting his movements to the group’s compound and requiring him to wear an ankle monitor.
The local investigation started after the sheriff’s office learned of two videos that showed up on the You Tube website on Sept. 30.
One video focused on a young woman who alleged she was targeted by Stair’s sexual advances while she was at the Augusta Highway compound. That video translated into charges of criminal sexual conduct and kidnapping against Stair.
The second video, a collection of clips of Stair’s church services, allegedly showed him fondling the breasts of a 12-year-old girl during a church service. That video led to the sheriff’s office filing a charge of third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor.
Marcurella, the sheriff office’s lead investigator in the case, testified that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has handled the interviews with the victims who now live outside South Carolina. He said the FBI was handling the out-of-state interviews because it has field offices throughout the United States.
During his time on the stand, Marcurella testified that he had arrest warrants, as yet unserved, against parents of several of the victims, based on their attempts to keep the incidents from law enforcement investigators.
In addition to taking Stair into custody on Dec. 18, agents from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division served a search warrant at the Overcomer Ministry compound.
Marcurella testified that the SLED agents seized all the video tapes they found at the compound, as well as some electronic equipment. Stair videoed all his church services for distribution worldwide.
In response to questioning from Stair defense attorney Jack Swerling, Marcurella said to the best of his knowledge, SLED seized no other evidence from the compound.
As part of the on-going investigation, Marcurella added, SLED agents are analyzing each video seized on Dec. 18.