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Solicitor defends using gun taken from evidence room, says it was forfeited

GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) - An investigation by The Greenville News found that 13th Circuit Solicitor Walt Wilkins used a gun from evidence for personal protection in 2013. The gun was later stolen from his car.

In a written statement provided to 7 News, Wilkins said he'd been receiving death threats, and then-sheriff Steve Loftis provided him with the firearm.

7News spoke with Joe Watson, who is a former judge and was 13th circuit solicitor for more than a decade. He's been in Walt Wilkins' shoes in more ways than one. When 7 News informed Watson of reports that Wilkins had used a gun from evidence, this was his reaction:

"My first reaction was, the same thing happened to me when I was threatened during a big case," Watson said. 

He said he was working with the Greenville Police Department, and the Police Chief gave him a gun to use. Watson said he didn't know where it came from.

"When the Sheriff or the police chief says here you need a pistol, I'm assuming that, you know, everything's fine," Watson said.

In a written statement, Wilkins said when he was threatened, the sheriff offered him 24-hour law enforcement protection, which would have cost taxpayers more than $30,000 a month. He said he asked Sheriff Loftis for another option. According to Wilkins, the sheriff suggested South Carolina Statute 16-23-50(B) that allows forfeited guns to be used by law enforcement officers. 

So what is a forfeited gun? According to Watson, it's a gun that has been turned over to law enforcement, either for their use or to be destroyed. Wilkins said the gun "was forfeited by a defendant as part of an arrest."

Watson said just because a gun is evidence, doesn't mean it's relevant to a case. 

"As long as it's not affecting the case, then there would be nothing wrong with what happened," Watson said. 

7 News was not able to reach out to the person who prosecuted the case involving the gun provided to Wilson, which was stolen from Wilkins' vehicle and remains missing to this day.

Wilkins said, "There was not impact on our ability to prosecute and the defendants were convicted."

The assistant prosecutor in the case told The Greenville News that she believes the gun's disappearance may have interfered with the outcome of the case. In fact, the weapon charges against the defendant were dismissed. 

Online records show the assistant prosecutor gave Wilkins' opponent in the 2018 election $250 this year. They also show Watson donated $1,000 to Wilkins in July. 


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