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Man caught in homicides turns up free in small South Carolina town

Colombia, SC – The last thing the family of two sisters killed in a tiny South Carolina town heard about the man who confessed to killing them was that he was taken to a psychiatric hospital in 2012 to be treated for To be treated for schizophrenia so he could later be charged with murder.

For 10 years they heard nothing. Then, a few months ago, friends began calling a son of one of the women with news that they had seen Joseph Jermaine Brand near Kingstree, family lawyer Lori Murray said.

Darren Tisdale, a son of the other sister and mayor of the town of 3,100, then began searching for Brand and spotted him just a few miles from where police said he had confessed to killing the two women in the Shot head after breaking into her home in October 2010. Tisdale called the district attorney’s office but got no answer.

“He executed two elderly women,” Murray said. “I can’t believe he’s not a threat to the whole town just walking around.”

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Murray and the families of Naomi Johnson, 65, and her 74-year-old sister Thelma Haddock, gave The Associated Press the scant court records they could find and other information before a news conference. Then they asked reporters for help.

“We need a closure. I don’t know about you guys but yesterday I had a big hole in my heart not having my mum on Mother’s Day,” said Darren Tisdale.

At the courthouse, an official said there was no record of Brand’s arrest or charges of double murder, armed robbery, first-degree burglary and a weapons charge. The files were also not locatable online, although some court files still existed in a file used to hold the warrants. Other public records show that Brand, 43, registered to vote in an assisted living facility near Columbia in 2016. At one point he also had a Facebook page.

This is the only tangible evidence of where Brand was until he reappeared in Kingstree. Nobody has given the family an explanation as to why his charges simply disappeared.

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A 2012 judge’s order said that once Brand had regained his sanity, he should be returned to Williamsburg County and held without bail for his trial. Under the law, a prosecutor for fire could seek a life sentence of 30 years, with the possibility of a death penalty trial.

Prosecutors have vowed to reinstate indictment and said they would ask a grand jury to re-indict Brand by the end of the month, Murray said. Attorney Chip Finney did not return a phone message or email from the AP. Neither the assistant district attorney, who dropped the charges over competence issues, nor Brand’s public defender at the time.

A woman in Kingstree, posing as Brand’s grandmother, hung up with an AP reporter on Monday. No one replied to a message left on a phone number from Brand’s mother.

Members of the sisters’ family said they had faith in the system, even when a call to Finney to review the case went unanswered in 2018. Until they saw Brand walking loose.

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“It was very difficult for the whole family to relive this event,” the family said in a statement from their attorney. “We want justice for our mothers. We want our families closed, we want Joseph Brand to pay for his crimes, and we want answers as to how and why he was released without charge.”

And Tisdale added on Monday: “I hope Mr. Finney is doing the right thing.”

Brand lived a few doors down from Johnson and Haddock in 2010. He had moved to Kingstree to live with his father after being in a Nevada prison for robbery, drugs and firing a gun from a vehicle.

Brand came to the sisters’ house and asked for pine straw to be spread for money. When they refused, Brand stormed into the home, grabbed a gun from one of the sisters, and shot her multiple times, including in the head, Williamsburg County lawmakers said.

Brand’s father found him wandering aimlessly in the sisters’ front yard, investigators said. The father saw her door was open and stuck his head in to apologize. That’s when he discovered the bodies.

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According to arrest warrants, Brand confessed to the murders. But records show his mental health issues prevented him from helping his lawyer, leading a judge to order a psychiatric evaluation. A psychiatrist’s report stated that Brand suffered from schizophrenia and his thinking was completely disorganized. The report indicated that Brand refused to take his medicine and that his competence could be restored if he took it.

When asked his age after his arrest, Brand replied, “Seventy-nine years in Islam.” Then he said he was 34 years old. One of the two psychiatrists who examined him corrected him, saying that he was listed in the court records as 33. “One and a half!” Brand yelled back at his mental state, according to the report.

When asked how he hoped his case would turn out, Brand, who once lived in Reno, Nevada, said he wanted to “go back to the biggest little city.”

“I want to come back to life as a rock star,” he said, according to the report.

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Brand was initially sent on temporary psychiatric treatment but remained unfit to stand trial, according to District Judge Clifton Newman, who in November 2012 ordered him to be jailed until better.

That’s where the paperwork ends, save for recording his registration for Blythewood assisted living in 2016. No one knows exactly how Brand ended up back in Kingstree last year.

Murray said that although the attorney promised to bring the case before a grand jury, she was concerned that it would actually happen because it was not clear if Brand had been declared mentally competent. She said she still couldn’t get any replies from Finney’s office.

“The fees are gone. The record is deleted. Mr. Brand roams free like a jaybird,” Murray said.

State mental health officials said privacy laws prevent them from releasing details about Brand’s treatment. But in a statement Monday, the Department of Mental Health said patients charged with crimes and in need of long-term care will be committed by a probate judge and both that judge and prosecutors will be informed when the patient no longer requires involuntary treatment.

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Finney’s office told the family that investigators have been keeping an eye on Brand since they realized he was back in Kingstree, but Murray said that was little consolation. She’s now worried he might walk, knowing a grand jury will hear the case again later this month.

“He’s still out there,” Murray said. “And I think if there hadn’t been a problem with the case, they could have brought it back.”

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/national/2022/05/09/families-stunned-after-seeing-man-with-2-murder-charges-free/ Man caught in homicides turns up free in small South Carolina town

Justin Scacco

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