Former sheriff takes stand in his own defense

by: Greg Suskin Updated:


CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, S.C. - The testimony is over in the trial of a former sheriff but not before a dramatic final day on Wednesday.
Sam Parker took the witness stand and was immediately asked by his lawyer if he ever knowingly broke the law.
"Absolutely not," he said, looking at the jury that will decide his fate. 
Parker faces a potentially long prison term for charges of misconduct in office, embezzlement and furnishing contraband to inmates.
His lawyer went one by one through all the indictments against Parker asking him to respond. 
Parker said he did what he did for the good of the county, often spending his own money on resources for the Sheriff's Office. 
He admitted giving guns to friends who had no law enforcement training, but said they were all gun experts who could protect the county if called upon.  
When asked why he allowed two inmates, William Skipper and Mike Lee, to live outside the jail at the armory while they refurbished it, he said they were not any danger to the community and had work to do. 
He said he got approval from state prison officials for them to live there. 
He also said it would help speed up their response time to emergencies if inmates were at the armory to gas up the cars and pull out the helicopter when it was needed.
Parker said Skipper and Lee were like part of his family, and became part of the Sheriff's Office. 
He said he didn't believe that it was wrong to house them outside the jail and let them wear street clothes instead of prison clothes.
When asked why he invited them over from Christmas with his family and to church, he said he felt sorry for them.
"The Christian side of me wanted to see these guys rehab," Parker said.  "I wanted to show them love and Christian values."
The former sheriff admitted that he had never read the agreement between his office and the state concerning what inmates are and are not allowed to do. 
He said he trusted his jail administrator with that job.
Parker is also accused of placing Pepsi machines in the jail and Sheriff's Office and keeping the profits from those machines.
When his lawyer asked about that alleged embezzlement, Parker said he was the Pepsi customer so he was entitled to commission checks on the money that was made.  He said he never stole anything from the taxpayers.
"I would never take money from the people of this county or anybody else," he said.
Later, Assistant Attorney General Heather Weiss confronted Parker during cross examination. 
She questioned his supposed lack of knowledge of what was going on in his own department.
Weiss questioned how Parker couldn't be aware of what was going on in the jail he ran or not know that inmates were supposed to wear prison uniforms. 
The prosecutor said that Parker's wife Pam had set up a friend on a date with Lee, a convicted arsonist, but Parker testified that he knew nothing about it.
Parker was also grilled about the guns he gave to more than a half dozen people who were not law enforcement officers and had no training.
He said he saw no problem with it and would do it again today. 
"I trusted those people," he said.
He was also questioned about earlier testimony that he threatened his own employees during staff meetings. Several deputies said he would threaten to fire them for questioning his authority.  
He admitted making threats but said he did it to get their attention so they would do their jobs.
Parker answered questions calmly during the cross examination and never appeared riled.
Once Parker's testimony ended after about four hours, his defense called a few character witnesses to the stand. 
They each spoke for a matter of seconds and told the jury that Parker was a truthful man with a good reputation.
The jury has heard 50 witnesses over seven days.  They will hear closing arguments first thing Thursday morning.