Preston Oates found guilty of voluntary manslaughter
BEAUFORT CO., SC (WTOC) -
The jury has returned a unanimous verdict, finding Preston Oates guilty of voluntary manslaughter and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime in the shooting death of Carlos Olivera.
Oates has been sentenced to a concurrent term of five
years for possession of a firearm and 26 years for voluntary manslaughter with
credit for time served.
Both sides presented closing arguments on Thursday morning in the Preston Oates murder trial.
Oates is the tow truck driver accused of killing Carlos Olivera over a towing dispute.
Deliberations started around 12:30 p.m. on Thursday.
The jury asked to see the short video clip of the shooting, the four elements of self defense and Preston Oates 911 call.
The judge ruled earlier Thursday in favor of the state to allow voluntary manslaughter to be added on the verdict form. Voluntary manslaughter carries a two to 30 year sentence.
The jury could decide to convict Oates with either murder, voluntary manslaughter or rule self defense.
During closing arguments, the state questioned Oates' credibility given that he gave many inconsistent statements to investigators about shooting Olivera.
Oates was trying to tow Olivera's minivan in the Edgefield subdivision of Bluffton on Christmas Eve 2010.
Deputy Solicitor Sean Thornton said Olivera never aimed his gun at Oates and that there was no reason to shoot him as he was walking away.
But the defense says this is a textbook case of self-defense since Olivera racked his gun first at Oates as a "declaration of war" that he would not allow Oates to tow his minivan away.
"After the second shot, after the first shot and then the second shot I saw his eyes," Oates said in a recording.
"How in God's name do you see the victim's eyes if every shot you shoot is to the back? What he is is, he's a liar, a coward and a murderer," said Thorton.
"If you're entitled to self defense, you're entitled to keep shooting until the threat is eliminated," said defense attorney Jared Newman. "That's a call that the person that's under dire stress gets to make. What there is is legal justification to use self defense."
Oates is also charged with possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, which carries up to a five year sentence.
Both sides rested Wednesday afternoon after hearing from a number of witnesses over the past couple of days.
The state called its last few witnesses, which were all law enforcement officials, and Oates chose not to take the stand for the defense, which everyone expected. But the biggest shocker on Wednesday was when Oates cried.For the first time in court, Oates showed some emotion while he listened to an audio recording of himself being interviewed by police. During the interview Oates told police he feared for his life as he approached Olivera on Christmas Eve night 2010.
Olivera and Oates got into a heated argument that night because Oates was trying to tow Olivera's car.Oates told police he felt like he had no choice but to defend himself.
The defense maintains Oates shot and killed Olivera in self defense but the state says it was cold blooded murder.