Judge: Sentence reduction in deadly DUI case stands

By Nikki

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) The family of an elderly woman killed by a drunk driver believes the justice system has failed them.

On Thursday, a judge stuck by his decision to drastically reduce the sentence of a young man charged in the DUI accident of a 72-year-old woman.

In January, Samuel McCauley pled guilty to felony DUI and reckless homicide. He was originally sentenced to 15 years. Shortly, after McCauley's attorney filed a motion for sentence reconsideration.

In May, the judge ordered that the sentenced be reduced to five years.

Since there was never a hearing for the sentence reduction, the family of Eleanor Caperton believed the judge's move violated the Victims' Bill of Rights.

In court, McCauley's attorney argued otherwise.

"There was absolutely nothing improper under the law practice or the victim's bill of rights by the court's ruling on the briefs," stated McCauley's attorney, Capers Barr.

As McCauley's attorney spoke, defending the judge's recent order, Caperton's family listened, hoping the judge would have had a change of heart.

"I think that I was in the law by not having a hearing, but I don't want there to be any question about my denying anyone the opportunity to be heard under the existing constitution," said Judge Thomas Hughston.

McCauley sat quietly with his family sitting behind him. Caperton's family sat directly across from his loved ones.

"It was hard looking at him and his family today. I don't believe five years is long enough for taking someone's life," said Phyllis Savenkoff, the victim's sister.

In 2011, then-teenaged McCauley drove on I-26 in the wrong direction, killing Caperton.

"This is a disappointment. I feel like there's a lot of favoritism that's gone on between the judge and the defense," said Savenkoff.

McCauley's attorney claims the solicitor's office knew about the reduced sentence not long after the judge ordered it, and that the solicitor had ten days to file a motion in response.

"On May 30, 2013, her office was aware that the sentence was modified," said Barr.

Solicitor Scarlett Wilson was quick to deny Barr's claims.

"If we're going to talk about notice and timely filing of things, we never received noticed of the second amended sentencing sheet," Wilson said to the judge.

Outside the courtroom, Wilson went on to add, "If a judge is going to change a sentence, whether it's up or down, both parties have a right to be there -- the defendant and the victim."

Miscommunication or not a representative with Mothers Against Drunk Driving says the judge missed a perfect opportunity to take a stance against drinking and driving.

"Charleston County is fifth in the state for having DUI. What a great opportunity to say 'I'm going to render this at 15 years or 10 years or whatever would be more appropriate and send the message to people that this is not going to be tolerated,'" said Laura Hudson with MADD.

McCauley's attorney says his client's five year sentence is consistent with other DUI death cases in Charleston County.