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South Carolina Supreme Court reverses sentence in 2017 child death case

FILE - The SC Supreme Court building
Wikimedia Commons
FILE - The SC Supreme Court building

The South Carolina Supreme Court Wednesday overturned the 2017 conviction of a Pickens County woman accused of killing her grandson three years earlier.

Angela Brewer had been sentenced to 20 years in the death of 13-month-old Brentley Kolbin Lusk, who died from a dose of oxycodone found in his sippy cup.

In its written decision, the Supreme Court stated that it overturned Brewer’s conviction based on a violation of her Sixth Amendment rights – specifically, the amendment’s confrontation clause, which mandates that anyone on trial be able to directly face his or her accusers.

The decision centers on a toxicology test performed on Brewer that was conducted in a different state. Brewer has maintained that she was under the influence of medication when she was interrogated on video by police following Kolbin’s death and, therefore, was not able to properly understand her rights.

In its decision, the Supreme Court wrote: “We reverse Brewer's conviction and sentence because the Confrontation Clause mandates that an individual who actually performed the forensic testing be subject to cross-examination.”

In other words, the court found that because the person who actually performed the test was not available for cross-examination during Brewer’s trial (later upheld on appeal), her defense team had no way of determining whether the test had been properly conducted.

The 13th Circuit Solicitor’s Office in Greenville did not respond to calls and emails for comment.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.