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Man freed in competency mix up arrested again in SC killings

Lost Murder Charges-South Carolina
Jeffrey Collins/AP
/
AP
Attorney Lori Murray speaks at a news conference, Monday, May 9, 2022, in Kingstree, S.C. Murray asked prosecutors to release information about why the man charged in the killings of two sisters in October 2010 has been set free after being found incompetent to stand trial. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

A man charged with killing two sisters in South Carolina 12 years ago but who disappeared out of the legal system after he was found incompetent to stand trial was arrested Thursday in Colorado after authorities reinstated his charges, a sheriff's office and a family attorney said.

Williamsburg County deputies began looking for Joseph Jermaine Brand on Tuesday after he was charged for failure to appear for not returning to face the murder charges after treatment and release from a group home in 2016, family attorney Lori Murray said Thursday night.

Murray said investigators eventually were able to track Brand's cellphone, first getting a ping Thursday at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, then the airport in Dallas and then in Pueblo, Colorado, near where his brother lives. There, police caught up to him and took him into custody, Murray said.

A statement from Williamsburg County Sheriff Stephen Garner backed up details of the arrest, saying South Carolina law enforcement aided police in Colorado and added Brand awaits extradition back to that county to face prosecution.

The statement added that Brand was in a number of inpatient and outpatient mental treatment facilities in South Carolina and Florida since being found incompetent to stand trial in 2012 because of schizophrenia that psychiatrists thought could be treated by forcing him to take medicine and get help.

Murray said Brand will need to have another competency hearing before authorities can ask to bring him back to South Carolina to face murder, armed robbery and burglary charges in the October 2010 killings of Naomi Johnson, 65, and her 74-year-old sister Thelma Haddock in the home they shared in Kingstree.

Documents from the Williamsburg County Sheriff's Office show the warrants to arrest Brand were issued a day after The Associated Press wrote about a series of oversights that led to the families of the sisters to see and hear about Brand walking free around their town of 3,100 people.

"They are overjoyed that he is not walking the streets any more," Murray said. 'They feel safer and they feel like they are finally back on the path to justice."

Solicitor Chip Finney hasn't responded to a number of phone calls and messages from the AP since Monday, including a text asking about the arrest Thursday night. The assistant prosecutor who signed off on dropping the charges because of the competency problem and Brand's public defender at the time also haven't responded to messages.

Finney also hasn't reached out to Murray or the families of the sisters since the AP story and a subsequent news conference.

"The family still have questions that need to be answered by Mr. Finney," Murray said. "They aren't stopping until they get them."

A woman in Kingstree identifying herself as Brand's grandmother hung up on an AP reporter Monday and no one answered Thursday, No one has responded to a message left at a telephone number listed for Brand's mother.

There were no public records of Brand's 2010 arrest or indictments as of Monday. Other public records show Brand, 43, registered to vote from an assisted living home near Columbia in 2016. At one point, he also had a Facebook page.

The families of the sisters heard nothing from prosecutors after Brand was ruled incompetent in 2012, including an unanswered request for an update on the case from Finney in 2018.

Then, a few months ago, friends started to call a son of one of the women with the news that they had seen Brand.

Brand lived a few doors down from Johnson and Haddock in 2010. He had moved to Kingstree to live with his father after a stint in a Nevada prison on charges of robbery, drugs and firing a gun out of a vehicle, according to legal records.

Brand came over to the sisters' house and asked to spread pine straw for money. When they refused, Brand barged into the home, wrested a gun away from one of the sisters and shot them several times, including in the head, Williamsburg County deputies said.

Brand's father found him walking aimlessly in the sisters' front yard, investigators said. The father saw their door was open and poked his head in to apologize. That's when he discovered the bodies.

Brand confessed to the killings, according to arrest warrants. But the records show that his mental problems kept him from being able to assist his attorney, prompting a judge to order a psychiatric evaluation.

State mental health officials said privacy laws prevent them from releasing any details of Brand's treatment. But in a statement Monday, the Department of Mental Health said patients charged with crimes who need long-term care are committed by a probate judge and both that judge and prosecutors are informed when the patient no longer needs involuntary treatment.

The family wants an investigation into whether that notification was made. "The ball was dropped somewhere. They want to make sure this doesn't happen to any other family," Murray said.

The family also wants an investigation into whomever helped Brand get to the airport in North Carolina and how he was able to get a plane ticket to go to his brother's house.

Murray said Brand's Facebook page, his ability to fill out an application to vote and how he tried to escape this week's arrest warrants, including a layover where he changed planes, show he is not incompetent.

"Think about how much it takes to maneuver through airports," Murray said.