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Can Nathaniel Rowland be prosecuted for the death penalty?

Can Nathaniel Rowland be prosecuted for the death penalty?

On March 30, 2019, it was announced that missing University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson had been murdered and suspect, Nathaniel David Rowland, was in custody. Many people are wondering if he will face the death penalty. This murder received national attention, including because it is believed that Josephson mistakenly got into Rowland’s care, believing it to be a Uber ride she had summoned.

Josephson had been out with friends in the Five Points area of Columbia, and was last seen by her friends in the early A.M. hours of Friday, March 29, 2019. When she did not return home her friends reported her missing that afternoon to the Columbia Police Department. Shortly thereafter hunters in Clarendon County, South Carolina, approximately 90 miles away, found her body in a rural area.

Rowland is facing felony charges of Kidnapping and Murder in connection with the disappearance and murder of Josephson. He is currently incarcerated at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, located outside of Columbia. Rowland remains presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Kidnapping in South Carolina is a felony, carrying a maximum sentence of 30 years imprisonment. Additionally, it can also subject offenders to lifetime sex offender registration unless the court makes a finding that the crime was not sexually motivated.

Murder in South Carolina, is a felony carrying a minimum sentence of 30 years up to a maximum sentence of life, but offenders can face up to life in prison or the death penalty.

While not all details about Josephson’s death are currently known, it does appear possible that this crime will qualify for the death penalty. In order for a South Carolina murder to qualify for the death penalty it is necessary that one of the statutory aggravating circumstances spelled out in S.C. Code § 16-3-20(C)(a) apply. One of the listed circumstances is that the murder was committed while in the commission of a kidnapping. Since Rowland has been charged with both Murder and Kidnapping, it seems that the statutory requirement for an aggravating circumstance may be met. 

The decision to pursue the death penalty is made by the elected solicitor. Solicitor is a South Carolina term for District Attorney. Columbia is part of South Carolina’s Fifth Judicial Circuit comprised of Kershaw and Richland counties. The elected solicitor for that circuit is Bryon Gibson. The decision is not going to be made lightly, and won’t be known until there has been a full opportunity to review the totality of the evidence and confer with law enforcement and the victim’s family.

There are many reasons why the prosecutor may, or may not, choose to pursue the death penalty in an eligible case. A certain factor is the heinous nature of the crime, and if the police theory about Josephson’s death is accurate her murder seems to qualify for the death penalty. But actual executions in South Carolina are becoming rare, with the last occurring in 2011. This is due to the lengthy appeal process, as well as a shortage of lethal injection drugs.  Choosing to forego the death penalty can also help spare the victim’s family from having to live through various appeals that could take decades to conclude. It may not be known for several weeks or months whether or not there will be decision to pursue the death penalty in this case.

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