Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rest in peace Jennifer Evans

Rest in Peace Jennifer.

Your community, State and Nation are grateful for the time you spent protecting its citizens.

Prosecutor Evans’ death shocks S.C.
Renowned state official dies unexpectedly

One of South Carolina’s toughest prosecutors — a woman who sent con men, drug dealers and dog fight breeders to prison — has died at 41.

Jennifer Evans, head of the state attorney general’s criminal section and chief prosecutor for the state grand jury, died suddenly in North Carolina over the weekend, Attorney General Henry McMaster said Sunday.

“It was completely unexpected,” said McMaster, who confirmed her death to The State, saying it was a health issue, but didn’t confirm any details. He had talked to family members.

Describing himself as “crushed,” McMaster said she was an almost irreplaceable person in his 200-plus staff, which has 70 lawyers. She handled some of the state’s most notorious cases, he said.

“If you wanted a class on some area of criminal law, you would go to Jennifer,” McMaster said. “There was nothing too big, too hard for her. I never heard her say anything was too difficult or it would take a lot of work. That wasn’t in her vocabulary.”

Among other cases, Evans prosecuted white-collar swindlers in the Home Gold securities fraud scandal, and drug cases including a sprawling upstate Mexican methamphetamine ring. She was an expert on gang laws.

She also helped win a guilty plea that netted a 30-year jail sentence for North Charleston pit bull breeder and illegal dogfighter David Tant. After Tant’s 2004 guilty plea, the Humane Society of the United States hailed the prosecution as having sent a message to dogfighters nationwide.

Word of her death spread by cell phone and text message throughout the state’s law enforcement and legal communities Sunday.

“Everybody’s in shock right now,” said SLED director Reggie Lloyd, a former U.S. Attorney.

Evans, known for her energy and wit, was a courtroom warrior liked and respected by opposing lawyers, said attorneys who had fought against her.

“She was tough and hard-hitting without being mean-spirited or ever landing a blow that wasn’t fair,” said Joel Collins, a Columbia defense lawyer who represented Earle Morris, a former lieutenant governor and state comptroller general.

In 2004, Evans was part of a prosecution team that got Morris convicted of securities fraud for lying to investors. In 2007, as chief prosecutor, Evans successfully worked to make sure Morris — who had delayed imprisonment by appeals — was finally sent to prison over Collins’ objections.

Dick Harpootlian, a defense lawyer and former 5th Circuit solicitor, said Evans was expert at all facets of the law, from appeals to cross-examination.

“Anyone would have been lucky to have her on their team,” said Harpootlian. Evans was fast to respond creatively and accurately to changing courtroom situations, he said.

In 2004, Evans helped orchestrate a prosecution that landed Harpootlian’s client, Columbia con man Tracy McGee, in prison. McGee had fleeced Columbia-area doctors and others out of more than $1 million.

Columbia defense attorney Jim Griffin said, “I’ve worked with her, and I’ve worked against her, and believe me, it’s a much more pleasant experience to work with her.”

In 2007, Evans was the lead prosecutor on a team that got one of Griffin’s high-profile clients, Ronald Sheppard, 20 years in prison for his role in the Home Gold securities fraud case. Some 8,000 investors lost $277 million; Sheppard was Home Gold CEO.

Griffin, 47, said Evans’ great skill was with people. “She had a way of getting people to open up to her in a way that maybe they wouldn’t to others. There’s a whole lot more to being a lawyer than just looking at books and arguing the law.”

Griffin said he gave Evans a job in his defense law firm just before she graduated from USC law school in 1996.

After working with Griffin, she joined the solicitor’s office in York County as an assistant prosecutor, then came to the S.C. attorney general’s office.

Three years ago, when she was in her late 30s, McMaster promoted her to head his office’s criminal prosecution team.

“This certainly leaves a big hole — not only in office operations but in our hearts,” said McMaster.

Funeral arrangements are expected to be announced soon.