Man freed in mistaken jurisdiction arrested again in SC murders


A man accused of killing two sisters in South Carolina 12 years ago but disappeared from the justice system after being found unfit to stand trial was arrested in Colorado on Thursday after authorities dropped his charges resumed, a sheriff’s office and a family attorney said.

Williamsburg County deputies began searching for Joseph Jermaine Brand on Tuesday after he was charged with a no-show for not returning to face the murder charges after being treated and released from a dorm in 2016, a family attorney said Lori Murray on Thursday night.

Murray said investigators were eventually able to trace Brand’s cellphone, first pinging at the Charlotte, North Carolina airport Thursday, then at the Dallas airport and then in Pueblo, Colorado, near where he lived brothers, received. There, police caught up with him and took him into custody, Murray said.

A statement from Williamsburg County Sheriff Stephen Garner backed up the details of the arrest, saying South Carolina law enforcement had assisted police in Colorado, adding Brand awaits extradition to that county to face law enforcement.

The statement added that Brand has been in a number of inpatient and outpatient psychiatric facilities in South Carolina and Florida since he was found unfit to stand trial in 2012 for schizophrenia, which psychiatrists believed could be treated by forced to take medication and seek help.

Murray said Brand will need another competency hearing before authorities can request that he be returned to South Carolina to plead guilty to murder, armed robbery and burglary in the October 2010 murders of Naomi Johnson, 65, and her 74-year-old sister Thelma responsible for Haddock in their common house in Kingstree.

Documents from the Williamsburg County Sheriff’s Office show that the warrants for Brand’s arrest were issued a day after The Associated Press wrote about a series of oversights that resulted in the sisters’ families seeing and hearing Brand break free ran their town of 3,100 residents.

“They’re over the moon that he’s off the streets,” Murray said. “They feel more secure and feel like they’re finally back on the path to justice.”

Attorney Chip Finney has not responded to a series of calls and messages from the AP since Monday, including a text message asking about Thursday night’s arrest. The assistant prosecutor, who dropped the charges over the competency issue, and Brand’s then-public defender also did not respond to messages.

Finney has also not reached out to Murray or the sisters’ families since the AP story and a subsequent press conference.

“The family still has questions that Mr. Finney needs to answer,” Murray said. “They don’t stop until they get them.”

A woman in Kingstree, posing as Brand’s grandmother, hung up on an AP reporter Monday and no one answered Thursday. No one has responded to a message left at a phone number listed for Brand’s mother.

As of Monday, there were no public records of Brand’s arrest or arraignment in 2010. Other public records show that Brand, 43, registered to vote in 2016 at an assisted-living home near Columbia. At one point he also had a Facebook page.

The sisters’ families heard nothing from prosecutors after Brand was declared insane in 2012, including an unanswered request for an update on Finney’s case in 2018.

Then, a few months ago, friends began calling the son of one of the women with news that they had seen Brand.

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.

According to arrest warrants, Brand confessed to the killings. But records show his mental health issues prevented him from helping his lawyer, leading a judge to order a psychiatric evaluation.

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.

The family wants to investigate whether this notification was made. “The ball was dropped somewhere. They want to make sure this doesn’t happen to any other family,” Murray said.

The family also wants an investigation into who helped Brand get to the North Carolina airport and how he was able to get a plane ticket to his brother’s house.

Murray said Brand’s Facebook page, his ability to fill out a ballot application and how he tried to escape this week’s warrants, including one stop where he changed planes, show he’s not incompetent.

“Think about how much it costs to maneuver through airports,” Murray said.


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Bobby Allyn

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