A Big Estate man who escalated a verbal argument between his wife and his in-laws over garbage that piled up in the home has been convicted of attempted murder.
Joseph Brown, 37, was found guilty Wednesday, Sept. 19, in Beaufort County General Sessions Court of shooting his brother-in-law, Greg Black, of Hampton, Va. Brown also was convicted of possession of a weapon during commission of a violent crime after a two-day trial, in which prosecutors called 13 witnesses.
He was sentenced Thursday, Sept. 20, to 30 years in prison for the attempted murder conviction and five years for the weapons violation. The sentences are to be served concurrently.
“Joseph Brown turned a family disagreement into a violent confrontation and tried to kill his brother-in-law without provocation,” said Kimberly Smith of the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, who tried the case with fellow Career Criminal prosecutor Mary Jones. “In fact, a fraction of an inch difference in the path of a bullet is likely all that separated Greg Black from the serious injury he suffered and his death.”
The shooting took place on the front porch of the home in northern Beaufort County where Greg Black grew up. He arrived there the night of June 5, 2016, during a power outage caused by a summer thunderstorm. He was returning with his father, 61-year-old Ronnie Black, who owned the home and had visited his son in Virginia earlier in the week.
Joseph Brown, who is Ronnie Black’s son-in-law, also lived at the address, along with his wife Denice Black Brown and their three children.
While unpacking in the dark house, Ronnie Black heard a noise outside his bedroom window and took a flashlight and .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol with him to investigate. Finding nothing, he returned to the house, where he began arguing with his daughter about garbage that piled up in a utility room while he was away. Greg Black, standing nearby, suggested they take the discussion to the front porch, away from the children.
Hearing the argument, Joseph Brown exited his parked SUV in the front yard, where he had been sitting with the air conditioning running while smoking a vape and listening to his radio. He went to the porch, bringing a .38-caliber revolver with him.
Brown inserted himself into the argument. He then shot his father-in-law four times in the torso and arm, and struck him over the head repeatedly with the revolver, according to reports. He then shot Greg Black twice. One bullet struck him in the buttocks and the other in his thigh, narrowly missing his femoral artery.
Brown was charged with Ronnie Black’s murder, however, the jury acquitted him of that charge on Wednesday. The semiautomatic pistol was in Ronnie Black’s possession during the argument, although it was not fired. Brown argued that he shot both Ronnie and Greg Black in self defense.
As Smith and Jones demonstrated, the crime-scene evidence did not corroborate all of Brown’s claims.
He told Beaufort County Sherriff’s Office investigators that after shooting Ronnie Black, his father-in-law tried to toss his pistol to Greg Black, who lunged for the firearm. However, Greg Black was shot from behind, and the gun was recovered just inches from Ronnie Black’s body. A forensic pathologist from the Medical University of South Carolina testified that bullets pierced Ronnie Black’s heart, lungs and aorta, making it likely he would have fallen unconscious within seconds, if not immediately.
Greg Black also testified that he never posed a threat to Brown. His sister, Denice Black Brown, told the jury of nine women and three men that she didn’t know why her husband shot her brother.
Joseph Brown fired all six rounds in his revolver. It was so badly damaged during the attack – either by the blows to Ronnie Black’s head, the high-powered cartridges he fired from it or a combination of those factors – that it split in two locations and the cylinder could not be opened for reloading.
“The shooting of Greg Black was wanton and evil,” Jones said. “He wasn’t a threat. He was struck from behind. We also know that after firing all the rounds in his revolver, Joseph Brown went back to his truck, where he also kept a 9 mm handgun. He might have used it to kill Greg, but fortunately, by that point, Greg was already on the phone with a 911 dispatcher.”
Judge Carmen T. Mullen delivered the prison sentence.
Smith and Jones are members of the Solicitor’s Office Career Criminal Unit, which prosecutes the circuit’s most violent and habitual offenders. The team has earned convictions against 310 of the 322 defendants it has prosecuted since its formation in 2008.