Man who tried to plead guilty in 2017 for shooting at Rock Hill cop to get new trial

Andrew Dys
·4 min read

A Rock Hill man, who tried to plead guilty in a 2017 trial for shooting at a police officer but was convicted by a jury before the plea was completed, will get a new trial, the S.C. Court of Appeals has ruled.

John Perry, 51, was sentenced to life in prison after a York County jury convicted him of attempted murder. Shots were fired by Perry as he fled from Rock Hill Police Department officers after a traffic stop in 2016, according to court records. Perry was shot by an officer after Perry fired a gun, testimony showed in 2017.

The officer was not hurt.

Perry told police after his arrest that the gun went off by accident and he did not intentionally fire at police, 2017 court testimony showed. York County prosecutors argued in the 2017 trial that Perry had fled on foot during the 2016 chase and shot at police as he climbed a fence to escape.

The court of appeals ruled on Wednesday that the 2017 jury instructions about intent to kill in the case were wrong, according to an order released publicly on the South Carolina courts Web site. The appeals court reversed Perry’s guilty verdict and ordered a new trial.

In the order, the appeals court agreed with Perry that mention of intent to kill prejudiced Perry’s right to a fair trial, “because he (Perry) told the police his gun went off accidentally as he attempted to dispose of it during the police chase.”

Attempt to plead guilty gained national attention

The Herald exclusively reported in 2017 at the trial that moments before the jury returned the guilty verdict, Perry was in a holding cell at the courthouse where he had agreed to accept a plea deal with a sentence of 12 years in prison, testimony showed.

However, judge Paul Burch ruled that the plea deal had not been completed when Perry was convicted by the jury and no hearing on whether to accept the guilty plea had been held. Burch sentenced Perry to life.

Perry has a criminal record for other convictions dating back three decades, court records show. He told police he fled because of outstanding warrants, 2017 testimony showed. He was captured days after the 2016 shooting incident near Columbia.

After the trial, Perry’s lawyer Bill Nowicki of Rock Hill, told The Herald that Perry “had a deal” for a plea bargain. Nowicki vowed to appeal the guilty verdict.

The coverage of Perry’s attempt to plead guilty before being convicted was then broadcast nationwide by McClatchy and the Associated Press. The story about the failed last-minute attempt to plead guilty was picked up by Fox News and other media outlets.

Attempts to reach Nowicki Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Race excluded from first trial

Perry is Black. The officer who shot and wounded Perry is white.

The 2017 trial happened after police shootings of Black persons by police in Charlotte, Charleston, and Ferguson, Missouri, 2017 trial testimony showed. The 2017 judge ruled, and prosecutors and Perry’s lawyer agreed, that neither prosecutors nor the defense could bring up “racially charged” police shootings during the trial.

Wednesday’s appeals court ruling comes just a day after white Minnesota ex-officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter for the 2020 death of African-American George Floyd.

What happens now?

The court of appeals decision orders a new trial, but South Carolina prosecutors can ask the S.C. Supreme Court for a review of the ruling.

The S.C. Attorney General’s Office handled the appeal for prosecutors. Sixteenth Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett said Wednesday his office will review the opinion and work with the attorney general’s office to decide how to proceed.

Robert Kittle, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said the office is reviewing the decision.

“This is an ongoing case and as a result we cannot comment on the specifics of the decision,” Kittle said in a statement. “The office is considering the Court’s opinion and our options on how to proceed.”

It remains unclear if the attorney general’s office will seek a supreme court review, or the case will be rescheduled for trial in York County.

Perry remains in a South Carolina prison in McCormick until the case can be rescheduled.