Ander Lee and a friend were turkey hunting in a remote Clarendon County field on the afternoon of March 29, 2019, when something caught his eye.
“I saw something that I wasn’t sure what it was. ... The more I looked, the more it looked like a body,” Lee, 25, testified Wednesday morning. “I wasn’t sure what it was. We didn’t expect to see something like that, out in the middle of nowhere.”
The body, he testified, was covered in blood. He and his friend then called a relative, who contacted a S.C. Department of Natural Resources officer, Bubba Morris, who came the scene.
Lee was the lead prosecution witness on the third morning of the ongoing murder trial in the death of Samantha Josephson, the 21-year-old University of South Carolina senior who was abducted from the Five Points nightclub area next to the campus and slain the same day.
Nathaniel Rowland, 27, whose family witnesses said lived in the area where Josephson’s body was found, is charged with murder and kidnapping in her death. He has pleaded not guilty.
In all, nine witnesses for the state testified Wednesday morning as a team of prosecutors led by 5th Circuit Solicitor Byron Gipson continued slowly building a case they hope will lead a jury to convict defendant Nathaniel Rowland, 27, of charges of murder and kidnapping in Josephson’s death.
Half of Wednesday’s morning’s testimony dealt with the chance discovery of Josephson’s body in a rural area some 65 miles from Columbia. At the time, she had been reported as a missing person who had mistakenly got into a black Chevrolet Impala she believed was an Uber rideshare she had called to take her from Five Points to her apartment. She had been standing in front of the Bird Dog nightclub.
Other key testimony Wednesday morning dealt with the seemingly equally chancy arrest of Rowland in the early morning of March 30, 2019, in the same Five Points area where Josephson had gone missing about 24 hours earlier.
At that time, testified Columbia police officer Jeffrey Kraft, the department had numerous patrol cars swarming the Five Points area looking for some trace of Josephson or the black Chevrolet Impala she had gotten into.
Surveillance cameras, ubiquitous in Five Points, had captured her getting into the vehicle and her image and the car had been disseminated as a BOLO — Be On the Lookout for — to police patrol cars across the city.
About 2 a.m. on March 30, 2019, Kraft spotted a black Chevrolet Impala at the intersection of Blossom and Harden streets on the edge of Five Points and began to follow it, Kraft testified under questioning by prosecutor Daniel Goldberg.
“Were you the only one looking?” Goldberg asked.
“The whole city was,” Kraft replied as a jury of seven women and five men looked on.
The Chevrolet he was following turned the wrong way down a one-way street, Saluda Avenue, and Kraft flipped on his blue lights. The Chevrolet stopped.
Flipping on his body camera, Kraft got out and approached the Chevrolet, where Rowland — “slouched down” in the driver’s seat and wearing a grey hoody sweatshirt — waited, Kraft testified.
Smelling marijuana, Kraft asked for identification. Rowland said he didn’t have any, Kraft testified.
Once Rowland was out of the car, he asked Kraft why he was pulled over and was told police were stopping vehicles that fitted the description of the black Chevrolet, Kraft testified.
“That’s when he took off (running),” Kraft testified. In footage from the officer’s body camera, he is heard yelling at Rowland, “Get your hands out of your pocket — are you crazy?” That is followed by the sound of Kraft’s footfalls pounding down the street as he chased after Rowland.
Within a few minutes, other officers — responding to Kraft’s calls for assistance — had cornered and taken an out-of-breath Rowland into custody. He was read his Miranda rights, but said nothing, another officer testified.
Meanwhile, Kraft had begun searching Rowland’s Chevrolet and found in the front driver’s seat area a rose-gold cell phone. Presumably, this phone belonged to Josephson, but neither prosecutor Goldberg nor Kraft speculated on its ownership.
Another key finding Kraft made was when he opened the trunk of Rowland’s car.
“There were large quantities of blood... large quantities of bleach,” Kraft testified, adding there was more blood in the back seat. He said he then called for crime scene technicians.
It was while searching the vehicle that he learned that Josephson’s body had been located, the officer testified.