Man sentenced to 15 years in fatal 'sucker punch' case

VIDEO: Judge sentences Mt. Pleasant man to 15 years in fatal 'sucker punch' case
Published: Apr. 6, 2016 at 4:40 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 8, 2016 at 12:06 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The Mount Pleasant man convicted of fatally sucker punching a Johns Island man in April 2014 has been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Dalton Clarke was found guilty of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature in the death of Clint Seymour, 27. It took the jury a little more than four hours to reach the verdict.

The judge says Clarke's time behind bars will count toward the 15 years. Clarke could have faced up to 20 years in prison.

Immediately after the verdict was announced, family members of both Clark and Seymour spoke to the court as the judge considered a sentence.

Clark's family told the court the image painted of Clarke did not accurately portray the man he really is. Clarke's father said he is sorry for the loss the Seymour family suffered. Clarke's mother said Clarke is "not a bad person," adding there isn't a day that goes by that their family does not think of Seymour.

Seymour's father, Donald, told the court his son touched many lives, but that the family now must live without him. The elder Seymour recalled notes Clint kept on his phone. One from 2013, he said, read, "My dad is the best guy that ever lived." He then said Clarke's past actions make him "a threat to society" and asked the court to impose the maximum sentence.

The state presented evidence of past incidents involving Clarke, but said Clarke was not convicted on those incidents. Prosecutors said they were told from someone involved in prior incident, "Clarke is a very nice person until he starts drinking."

Following the sentencing Donald Seymour spoke to the media.

"There was no winner ever since Ellis Clarke took off and ran up Morris Street and hit my son with a stealth punch. There was never going to be any winners. There's an appropriate result, there's consequences for people who make the wrong decisions. I hope that people understand. I hope that people will learn from this. I learn things as a result of my son's death that made me a better person, I hope. I hope people in the Charleston community can learn from this too, because we're all in this together. Anytime this happens it's the whole community that loses."

Thursday morning before the jury was brought in, the judge ordered two more charges be given to the jury to decide how to convict Clarke.

The judge gave jury members a total of four options to consider during their deliberations: assault and battery in a high and aggravated nature, assault and battery in the second degree, assault and battery in the third degree, or not guilty.

The prosecution and the defense each gave closing arguments Thursday morning.

Jason King, Clarke's attorney, presented to the jury first.

King urged the jury to consider the eye witness testimony from  Wednesday where two women said they saw another man hit Seymour in the face. King said the prosecution's "running punch theory" is "impossible," saying Clarke would have never been able to hit Seymour in the back of the head if he was running.

Assistant Solicitor Chad Simpson argued the theory is possible based upon surveillance footage from the area around King and Morris Streets.

Simpson said Clarke was nowhere to be found in the footage because he was off-camera "sucker punching" Seymour.

The prosecution urged the jury to convict Seymour based upon the testimony from Clarke's friends who were there the night of the altercation. Those witnesses testified Clarke was the person who punched Seymour.

Clarke originally faced a charge of involuntary manslaughter. The charge was updated to assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature once before, when he was indicted.

Detectives say Clark was leaving a King Street bar with friends on April 26, 2014 shortly before 2 a.m. when a verbal confrontation broke out between two groups of men. Clark is accused of striking Seymour, 27, who then fell to the ground and hit his head on the pavement, according to reports.

Seymour died of on April 28 after being in a coma for two days.

An MUSC forensic expert testified Wednesday.

Dr. Lee Tormos said an autopsy revealed Seymour suffered three bruises to the skull and a skull fracture, which she described as the result of a hit "of moderate force," comparing it to that of boxing. She also testified the skull fracture was not the result of Seymour striking his head on the pavement.

The jury watched 3D videos of Seymour's injuries, the second of which showed the fracture in a "Y" shape across the base of the skull. Tormos said Seymour's cause of death was "blunt trauma to head and neck" and said the manner of death was homicide.

She said she could not medically determine which hand threw the punch.

Clarke decided not to testify after talking with his family and attorneys.

Clarke has been out of jail on a $150,000 bond. During a June 2014 hearing that resulted in that bond being reduced from $500,000, a detective said six witnesses claimed they saw Clarke punch Seymour or heard him admit he did it at a later time.

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