James Edward Loftis’ eagerness to make the self-defense argument in court helped sway a judge Monday to grant bail to the 39-year-old as he prepares for trial on a pair of murder charges. He fatally shot taxi driver Guma Oz Dubar, 46, and James Cody Newland, 32, on March 5 at his house on South Pandora Drive.
James Edward Loftis: Shot 2 men in the head, burned and buried them along with the evidence in his backyard because ‘he was scared for his life and standing his ground’
James Edward Loftis, 39, shot, burned, buried 2 men in his backyard but the trial judge has granted bail.
His attorney claims he burned and buried the men he invited into his home because he was ‘a person who’s scared.”
Once he posts it, he will remain under house arrest, but can emerge for work, doctor visits, CHURCH and meetings with his lawyer
The case poses new questions about the S.C. Protection of Persons and Property Act, a “stand your ground” law that gives homeowners the right in many circumstances to use deadly force against people breaking into their houses.
He did, though, call his client’s actions afterward “heinous.”“He’s a human being,” Harris said. “He freaked out and thought he was going to prison, so he tried to hide the bodies. Nobody knows how you’re going to react when you kill two people.”
Circuit Judge Markley Dennis weighed various factors, including facts of the case and whether Loftis is a flight risk or a danger to the community, in considering bail during a hearing Monday in the Berkeley County Courthouse.
Photo: Cannon Detention Center
James Cody Newland, 32, died of a gunshot wound to the head before he was burned and buried.
“The only way he will ever be able to resolve that is to … have his day in court,” Dennis said. But the alleged crime’s aftermath remains concerning, he said.
Dubar, who operated the Global Mobile Taxi Service, gave Loftis a ride home early that morning from Stilettos Gentlemen’s Club, a strip joint in Charleston. Newland, a friend who often hung out with Dubar, tagged along.
In documents, the Goose Creek Police Department portrayed Loftis’ account of what happened next: Dubar and Newland forced their way into the home and demanded the cab fare. Loftis said he would get the money, but he emerged from the kitchen instead with a .45-caliber pistol and fired eight times.
His wife came home to the sight of bullet holes in the wall. Some blood was on the floor. She contacted the police.
Loftis told detectives that he had cleaned his home with bleach. He dug a hole in the backyard and put the bodies and his dirty clothes there. He burned the remains and covered them with dirt.
“They were essentially just slow-cooked inside the grave site,” Deputy Solicitor Bryan Alfaro said during the hearing.
But the grisly discovery didn’t make it murder, Loftis’ attorney said.
A size 12 footprint was found near the handle of the home’s door, Harris said, and blood was found in the doorjamb. Those findings corroborate Loftis’ story of self-defense, the lawyer said.
But investigators largely ignored evidence favoring Loftis, Harris said. Maj. John Grainger, a Police Department spokesman, said it would be inappropriate for the agency to respond because the case rests in prosecutors’ hands. The law was on Loftis’ side, his attorney said, but he didn’t know that at the time.
“Unless you’re a lawyer or a cop, you don’t know with a degree of certainly if it’s murder or not,” he said. “If he would have picked up the telephone after the shooting, we wouldn’t be here right now.”
Late last month, Harris made the argument during a preliminary hearing in asking Magistrate Ava Bryant to dismiss the murder charges. But Bryant said it was a question for jurors to decide in a trial or for a circuit judge to weigh, according to Harris. If Loftis files for immunity from prosecution under the state’s self-defense law, a judge would listen to the argument during a pretrial hearing and determine whether the charges should be thrown out.
But Alfaro said Monday that the prosecution was moving forward because inconsistencies in Loftis’ story had surfaced.
“At one point, he indicated he had let (Dubar and Newland) into the home,” he said. “At another point, he indicated they forced their way into the home.”
Whether the men broke in or were invited is a key fact. The law gives residents the benefit of the doubt when they shoot someone clearly breaking into a home.
Loftis has not been charged with desecrating human remains, a felony that carries between one and 10 years in prison. The self-defense argument has been used nationwide — sometimes successfully — even after a defendant admits to destroying a victim’s body.
One of the most infamous cases was that of Robert Durst, a real estate heir who went on trial for murder in the 2001 death of an elderly neighbor in Texas. Durst’s defense team argued that he shot the man in self-defense during a struggle, then dismembered the body and dumped the remains in Galveston Bay. A jury acquitted Durst.
For a murder conviction in South Carolina, prosecutors must prove “malice aforethought” beyond a reasonable doubt, meaning they must show that a defendant acted with evil intent and disregard for life.
Loftis, his attorney said, was just trying to save his own life.
“If he wouldn’t have burned those bodies, he would be a free man,” Harris said. “(The police) see this horrible aftermath and say it’s malice. It’s not malice. It’s a person who’s scared.”
The judge decided on a bail amount slightly higher than what Harris requested. Once he posts it, Loftis must remain on house arrest. The father and lifetime Charleston-area resident can emerge only for work, doctor visits, church and meetings with his lawyer.
But for Dubar’s wife, Tamiko Anderson, the prospect of Loftis’ freedom is terrifying.
“I’m scared for my life,” she said. “If nobody else is, I am.”
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