Gerrick convicted of murdering Donaldson

A Blackville man was sentenced to life in prison after a jury convicted him of murder last week.
Sammie Lee Gerrick, 42, was found guilty Thursday afternoon of murdering Tyrone Anthony Donaldson in July 2011 after a four-day trial at the Barnwell County Courthouse during the November general sessions term.
The jury deliberated for about 50 minutes before delivering the verdict shortly after 1:30 p.m., and Circuit Court Judge Jack Early gave Gerrick a life sentence without the chance of parole.
Gerrick, however, maintained his innocence when he addressed the court before his sentencing. He said he was "overwhelmed" by the verdict and that "Tyrone was nothing but a friend to me." Gerrick said he'd been outsmarted by two men he claims had a hand in Donaldson's death after a drug deal went bad.
But Judge Early told Gerrick he was outsmarted only by himself after continuously lying to police and investigators for over two years about what happened July 21, 2011, the day Donaldson was last seen alive.
"God have mercy on your soul," Early said, "You'll need it."
Donaldson, who lived in Blackville and was 40 when he died, picked up Gerrick from the Bamberg County Jail that July day after putting up half of Gerrick's $6,600 bail. The other half was put up by Maurice Williams. Williams testified in court that Gerrick had promised to pay the men back immediately. But that never happened.
Assistant Deputy Attorney General Creighton Waters, who prosecuted the case along with Jason Anders, told the jury Gerrick never had the money to pay the men back. He said it was the first lie in a "string of lies" that Gerrick would use to try and save himself. The lies prove Gerrick's guilt, Waters said
Waters depicted Gerrick as a desperate man who needed money to pay his bills and probation fines. He said Gerrick knew Donaldson had money and lured him into a trap.
Witnesses testified seeing Gerrick and Donaldson together the afternoon Donaldson disappeared. Joe Thomas told the jury he saw Gerrick driving away from Blackville toward Sunshine Road - the area where Donaldson's buried body was found by law enforcement Aug. 4, 2011. Thomas said Gerrick's pickup truck was being followed by another car. Prosecutors maintained it was Donaldson in his white Honda Civic following Gerrick.
Waters told the jury Gerrick had tricked Donaldson into thinking he had a safe full of money buried in the woods off Sunshine Road a little ways outside of town. Waters said Donaldson and Gerrick went to a wooded area and started digging a hole, a hole that would become Donaldson's grave.
Gerrick attacked, tied up and "choked out" Donaldson, Waters said, before burying him, possibly still alive, in the hole he'd helped dig. A forensic pathologist told the jury the cause of death was suffocation.
Before he killed Donaldson, Waters said, Gerrick took the victim's ATM card and coerced the PIN number from him. Bank records and surveillance video showed Gerrick using the card to withdraw money and pay bills in the days after Donaldson's disappearance.
Gerrick's wife, Charlene, testified that she had gone with Gerrick to the wooded area where Donaldson's body was found the night of July 21 and that she followed Gerrick as he drove Donaldson's Civic to Orangeburg and parked it in the parking lot of a vacant Chinese restaurant. Gerrick's fingerprints were later found on the car.
Waters used witness and expert testimony, along with cell phone records, to prove that Gerrick was with Donaldson in the final hours of his life. He said scratches on Gerrick's arm, which investigators noted shortly after Donaldson's disappearance and an expert said were caused by someone fighting in self-defense, were caused by Donaldson while struggling for his life against Gerrick in the woods. The scratches, Waters told the jury, were Donaldson's personal testimony in the case and a final plea for justice.
Dozens of Donaldson's family and friends were at the trial. When the verdict was read, a woman shouted out, "Amen!"
Donaldson was a father of five who lost his wife, Sherell, in a car accident in 2009. He is remembered, Waters said, as a kind man who loved his children.