Jury in coroner's inquest rules toddler's mauling as accident

Published: Aug. 9, 2012 at 4:26 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 19, 2016 at 1:35 AM EDT
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MT. PLEASANT, SC (WCSC) - A six-panel jury in a coroner's inquest has ruled the death of a 2-year-old boy, who died in May after being bitten by two dogs outside a Mt. Pleasant home, as an accidental death.

The jury ruled Ja'Marr Tiller's death as misfortune and accident. Tiller's family will not face any charges. The six-panel jury listened to testimony at the Public Services Building in North Charleston for most of the day on Friday before deliberating for half an hour and reaching a ruling.

Coroner Rae Wooten acted as the judge in the case, but is not bound by the decision of the jury. Tiller's mother, aunt, uncle and grandmother all testified at the hearing.

"I got up and ran to the kitchen. She was screaming that the dog had killed her son," said Tiller's aunt, Octavia Johnson, during her testimony."My mom came out of the room and we went outdoors and we found his body laying at the ground."

The deputy coroner also revealed during the hearing that Tiller's body had 193 puncture wounds found on his body.

Tiller was found fatally injured near two dogs outside his home located at 2470 Highway 17 North on May 27. Tiller's uncle told Charleston County deputies that he took care of one of the dogs but the other was just a stray that came to visit.

"The reason I have decided to do an inquest into Tiller's death is because I have not yet ruled on the manner of death," Wooten said earlier this week. "An inquest is a powerful tool for me to gather facts, and at the end of the day, the jury is charged with getting back to me a decision on the manner of death."

In South Carolina, there are five manners of death: natural, accidental, suicide, homicide and undetermined.

"We know the cause of death, but are interested in the jurors' ruling regarding manner of death in this very complicated case," Wooten said. "Tiller's death was not natural or a suicide, but is it appropriate to say it's an accident or to charge someone with neglect? The jury's finding won't bind the solicitor in any way, but it's very compelling."

The solicitor does not have to follow the ruling handed down by the coroner's inquest.

Copyright 2012 WCSC.  All rights reserved.