Coroner to hold inquest for death of child mauled by dogs

Octavia Johnson holds a photo of her nephew, Ja'Marr Tiller. (WCIV)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) --{}An inquest is scheduled to gather testimony in the case of Ja'Marr Tiller, a 2-year-old boy who died after sustaining multiple bites from two dogs in his East Cooper backyard on May 27, 2012.

The inquest will begin at 9 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 10, in the first floor Courtroom B125 in the Lonnie Hamilton, III Public Services Building located at 4045 Bridge View Drive in North Charleston.

Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten says the purpose of the inquest is to air the facts and obtain testimony so a jury can gather information, deliberate, and deliver a finding.

"The reason I have decided to do an inquest into Tiller's death is because I have not yet ruled on the manner of death," Wooten said. "An inquest is a powerful tool for me to gather facts, and at the end of the day, the jury is charged with getting back to me a decision on the manner of death."

In South Carolina, there are five manners of death: natural, accidental, suicide, homicide and undetermined.

"We know the cause of death, but are interested in the jurors' ruling regarding manner of death in this very complicated case," Wooten said. "Tiller's death was not natural or a suicide, but is it appropriate to say it's an accident or to charge someone with neglect? The jury's finding won't bind the solicitor in any way, but it's very compelling."

Wooten said an inquest is a judicial proceeding where she pulls jurors from the normal jury pool, seeking six with one alternate, instead of the usual 12 with one alternate. The coroner will subpoena witnesses for their testimony, and she will act as the judge.

"The biggest difference with an inquest is that the jurors get to ask questions, and attorneys can't participate except to the extent that the coroner allows," Wooten said.

"Jurors have been summoned and witnesses will be subpoenaed. Because the Charleston County Sheriff's Office is the investigating agency, some of their officers will be subpoenaed to testify," Wooten said.

Wooten expects that the inquest on Tiller's case will last all day.

The last inquest done by Wooten's office was held December 2008 and lasted until 10 p.m. It was for a case regarding a 2007 plane crash that was initially thought to be an accident but was ultimately ruled undetermined.