Kirk Knows High-Profile Cases
North Myrtle Beach defense attorney Kirk Truslow, a resident of Carolina Forest, speaks to the media outside of the Charleston County Courthouse following a Jan. 30 bond hearing for Sidney and Tammy Moorer.
Story and Cover Photo by: Michael Smith | [email protected]
Truslow Has A History Winning Acquittals In Murder Trials
Kirk Truslow was in grade school when his grandfather Arthur Izzo pulled him out of school during one of the state’s biggest murder trials. The year was 1981, and Izzo had been summoned for jury duty in the murder trial of Ronald “Rusty” Woomer. “My grandfather had a really good sense of teaching kids lessons, so he thought it would be a good idea to take me with him,” Truslow said. “I had no idea how the justice system worked.” In February 1979, Woomer and an accomplice named Gene Skaar killed five people during a rampage spanning from Colleton to Horry County. Skaar killed himself to avoid capture as police closed in on the Myrtle Beach motel where they were hiding. Woomer surrendered. Before Woomer’s capture, he and Skaar traveled from West Virginia to South Carolina “for the express purpose of committing robbery and murder,” according to a ruling filed nine years later by the U.S. Court of Appeals.
It was an extremely high-profile case. Five people were dead, and a sixth person was severely hurt, her jaw disfigured from a shotgun blast. The death penalty had been reinstated only three years before the murders, and Woomer would become the third person executed nationally since then.
The Rusty Woomer trial was Truslow’s first experience seeing American courts in action. He quickly became hooked. “I decided to stay and watch the proceedings. I remember being taken by how the process works. I remember being very impressed with the defense attorney,” Truslow said. “Even taking into account movies and TV, it was probably the first time I saw a real criminal trial.” Truslow credits his grandfather’s influence in pursuing a career in law, as well as prodding from his mother, Linda Truslow, to stick with it. Today Truslow is one of two defense attorneys in another high-profile case. The Carolina Forest resident represents Sidney Moorer, who’s charged with murder in the Heather Elvis case.
Sidney’s wife, Tammy Moorer, has also been charged. She’s being represented by Myrtle Beach attorney Greg McCollum.
The Horry County couple also face charges of kidnapping, indecent exposure, obstruction of justice, false statement on application for Medicaid assistance and obtaining signature or property under false pretenses, value $5,000 or more. While a gag order prohibits Truslow from discussing particulars of the case, Truslow says whether it’s Rusty Woomer or Sidney Moorer, every defendant has a right to due process. “In this country, we don’t do things like other countries,” Truslow said. “In other countries, you don’t have due process, and that’s a frightening thing.”
Although Truslow and McCollum are representing separate clients, Truslow said the two attorneys have been working very closely together. “He and I have been friends for a long time,” Truslow said. “He and I are two guys who can bounce things off of each other.”
They were both contacted shortly after the arrest of Sidney and Tammy Moorer on Feb. 21, 2014. McCollum got the first call from Orrie West, chief public defender for the 15th Judicial Circuit. West contacted McCollum because the Moorers were found not to be indigent, meaning they didn’t qualify for a public defender, she said.
McCollum then contacted Truslow, who’s been representing Sidney Moorer ever since.
“I got a call from [Solicitor] Jimmy Richardson, who had asked [me to] send public defenders to speak to the Moor- ers,” West said. “I knew we weren’t going to represent them. I had to call [a private attorney] who was competent.” West said when dealing with homicide cases, she only contacts certain attorneys. Truslow and McCollum are among them. “They have been on my short list of people who could be appointed because they know how to handle homicides and successfully defend homicide cases,” West said. “They’re on that list because they’re excellent attorneys.”
McCollum said Truslow is one of the few lawyers he knows who’s solely focused on criminal defense, which he said makes Truslow a more effective attorney. Truslow also isn’t easily intimidated, McCollum said. “He’s what you want in a criminal defense lawyer. He’s smart and dedicated to what he’s doing. I have a good working relationship with him,” McCollum said. “You need to be known by the law enforcement and prosecutors. They need to know you won’t be afraid to stand up and defend the case.”
Success In The Courtroom
Truslow is a 1986 graduate of Myrtle Beach High School and pursued his undergraduate degree at The Citadel in Charleston. He obtained his law degree from the University of South Carolina in 1993. He worked for another law firm in his first two years of private practice before opening his own office in North Myrtle Beach in 1995.
Truslow later opened a second practice in Myrtle Beach, moving into his cur- rent location off 79th Avenue North last February. According to court records, Truslow has had a successful track record as a criminal defense attorney. A search of the S.C. Judicial Department database shows he’s prevailed in three of five cases brought before the S.C. Court of Appeals.
In 2013, he represented a man whose license was suspended for failing to submit to a drug screening. Truslow successfully defended a client in 2008 from registering as a sex offender due to changes in sex offender registry laws passed in 1996.
He’s also had success locally. In August 2014, the Myrtle Beach attorney obtained a not guilty verdict for Charles Hakeem Johnson, a 23-year-old Conway man charged in the 2012 shooting death of Jose Noel Gutierez. Gutierez was gunned down in the area of Ronald McNair Boulevard west of Myrtle Beach in a drug deal gone bad. The only evidence against Johnson consisted of some calls from his cell phone the day of the incident, Truslow argued.
In October 2000, Truslow successfully delivered a not guilty verdict for Billy Ray Johnson and his wife Tammy Marlowe Johnson, a Loris couple charged in the 1997 scalding death of one of their 14-month-old twin daughters. Kimberly Johnson suffered third degree burns over 33 percent of her body and died in May 1998 after a painful struggle. Kandice Johnson suffered third degree burns to more than 50 percent of her body, but survived, according to media reports. The Johnsons were tried in 2000. Prosecutors at the time told the court the couple lost control and purposefully burned the girls, but Truslow argued it was a horrible accident.
“Strange things do happen, accidents do happen,” Truslow said in opening remarks at the time. The case tugged at the public’s heart. The defendants quickly became the subject of scorn and calls for vengeance, Truslow said.
It’s not unlike the community angst that’s happened in the Heather Elvis case, angst chronicled in the various police reports filed by Sidney and Tammy Moorer, their relatives and Terry Elvis, Heather’s father. Truslow, citing the gag order, couldn’t comment about the harassment reports filed in the Elvis case, but noted there was significant outcry in the Johnson trial.
“If you have a case like that, you will see a public outcry that somebody needs to be held responsible,” Truslow said. “It’s hard to accept something that bad can happen and nobody’s going to pay for it.”
The Johnson trial lasted for eight days, but justice came within minutes. Billy Ray Johnson and Tammy Marlowe Johnson were found not guilty of homicide by child abuse and two other counts. Barely 20 minutes after the verdict was read, a juror approached Truslow in the parking lot. “That juror was appalled that the case was even brought,” Truslow said. “They were so sickened they had to go through that.”
In the first several months of the Heather Elvis case, Truslow maintained a comparatively lower profile than McCollum, his colleague. Aside from arguing on Sidney Moorer’s behalf at the first bond hearing March 17, 2014, Truslow didn’t file a single motion after that until the following September.
Truslow filed his first of two motions to compel on Sept. 2. The second was filed Oct. 20. It’s unclear whether the motions dealt with the same or different pieces of evidence. It’s also unclear whether the motions were related to a discovery motion Truslow filed Dec. 15, which the Horry County Public Index says was completed on Jan. 22, 2015. Eight days later, Truslow appeared at Sidney Moorer’s second bond hear- ing, which was held in Charleston County.
In prior court hearings, Truslow has said there’s been a “severe lack of evidence.”
In March, he took aim at text messages offered by the prosecution, messages showing contact between Sidney Moorer and Heather Elvis in the hours leading up to her disappearance. Prosecutors said the messages were threatening to Heather Elvis. Truslow called them “fabricated,” telling the court they were essentially notes typed on a computer and printed out.
“There has been an onslaught against my client,” he said. “There’s a whole Socastee contingent of folks that go out and say things.”
In a bold move, Truslow alluded to Heather Elvis’ own social media activities. He didn’t disclose what those activities entailed out of respect for the Elvis family, but hinted he may do so later.
“Your honor, I could’ve come in here and I could have brought the posts by Heather Elvis,” he said. “At trial, that’s going to be relevant.”
At the Jan. 30 bond hearing, Truslow said the state has no direct evidence, a reality that prosecutors later conceded. “There is no physical evidence. There is no direct evidence,” Truslow said.
“We do believe we have substantial circumstantial evidence,” lead prosecutor Nancy Livesay would later respond.
Truslow pointed out forensic tests showing Heather Elvis’ DNA was in Sidney Moorer’s truck were erroneous. He also said reports of large bank deposits being made into the Moorers’ bank account around the time Elvis disappeared were incorrect.
“[Sidney Moorer] has been labeled as a monster killer,” Truslow said. “He wants out now. He’s had a lot of patience and he thinks a year is enough. He’s tired of talking to his children through a wall.”
Circuit Judge Markley Dennis, who presided over the January hearing, set bond at $100,000 each for Sidney and Tammy Moorer. The trial has been scheduled for the week of May 11, and will continue to May 11, if needed. The Horry County Clerk of Court plans to summon 800 prospective juror.