An American Tragedy in South Carolina — reported in “The State” by John Monk


Thursday, Jun. 03, 2010

‘Bizarre’ slaying probed as possible hate crime


A truck drives by a blood trail on South Carolina Highway 176 in Newberry, S.C., where police officials claim murder suspect Gregory Collins allegedly dragged the body of Anthony Hill for miles behind Collins' truck by a rope tied around Hills' neck. (AP Photo/Ted B. Williams)

The killing of an African-American man whose body was dragged on a rope for more than 10 miles behind a truck on rural Newberry County roads is being investigated as a possible federal hate crime, SLED director Reggie Lloyd said Wednesday night.

The FBI was in Newberry County, located about 40 miles northwest of Columbia, looking for possible hate-crime-related evidence in the “bizarre” killing of Anthony Hill, 30, of Winnsboro, Lloyd said.

But Lloyd cautioned that state, local and federal officials have made no final determination in the case and are still gathering and processing evidence.

“We don’t yet have a definitive motive for all this,” Lloyd said.

After the Wednesday morning discovery on Hill’s battered body on U.S. 176 by a passing motorist, Newberry County deputies followed a 10-mile trail of blood and gore left on several roads leading to the rural home of Gregory Collins of Newberry County, Lloyd said.

A pair of rubber gloves lies on the ground at the home of a Gregory Collins, in Newberry, S.C., on Thursday, June 3, 2010. (AP Photo/Ted B. Williams)

Then, for three hours, Collins — a white man about 30 years old — refused to come out. A SLED SWAT team finally fired tear gas into the home, forcing Collins to surrender. He was arrested and charged with murder, Lloyd said.

Collins was scheduled for a first-appearance hearing this morning at 9 a.m.

Hill died from a single gunshot wound to the head and was apparently dead before his body was dragged and mangled, said Newberry County Coroner Craig Newton. The body apparently came to rest on U.S. 176 after the rope snapped, authorities said.

Lloyd said the victim and the suspect were co-workers at the Louis Rich chicken-processing plant in Newberry. The two, who both had girlfriends, had been spending a lot of time “just hanging out” with each other recently, Lloyd said. No drugs were believed to have been involved, and neither man has a serious criminal record, Lloyd said.

Lloyd said elements of the killing that raised the possibility of a hate crime included:

The victim’s body being dragged by a rope and left on a public road.

The suspect is white, and the victim, black.

Some “other issues” — evidence linked to Collins — that Lloyd did not want to divulge.

“We are being careful. We don’t want to attribute something to Collins that isn’t necessarily true,” Lloyd said. “But out of precaution, given the circumstances, we are investigating the racial angle.”

Lloyd did say authorities are trying to ascertain whether Collins has any ties to white-supremacist groups. He said in cases like this, authorities typically look into computer and phone records.

The Newberry incident is similar to a notorious 1998 Texas case in which white supremacists tied a black man to a truck by a logging chain and dragged him three miles to his death, Lloyd said. More recently, in South Carolina, three white Marlboro County men were sentenced to federal prison last December for hate crimes for burning a black man’s car and threatening him with a chainsaw when he tried to use a restroom at a rural store frequented by whites, Lloyd said.

The first federal hate-crimes law, enacted as a federal civil rights law in 1969, made it a federal crime to commit violence against someone because of their color, religion or national origin.

Congress enacted the law to protect blacks engaged in civil rights activities in mostly Southern states because of repeated state failures to protect civil rights workers. In 2009, Congress expanded the law to include discrimination against gay people. Federal penalties can be severe, depending on the severity of the crime.

Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster cautioned residents not to form conclusions before facts are available. “It is absolutely understandable the community would be shocked and outraged by this horrible act,” he said. “However, the suspect is in custody and will answer to the legal system for his actions.”

Gregory Collins, 19, is accused of shooting Anthony Hill, 30, of Winnsboro, S.C. and then dragging Hill's body for miles.

Foster said Collins and Hill spent most of Tuesday together and were “at Collins’ house late Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning. It was inside that residence that Collins shot Hill in the head, killing him,” Foster said.

“Collins then removed Hill’s body from the residence, attached a nylon rope around Hill’s deceased body and began to drag him behind his truck and away from the residence,” Foster said.

“On the one hand, you have this relationship between the two of them,” said Lloyd, “and on the other, these kinds of bizarre circumstances — dragging the body and that sort of stuff. And it’s way too early for us to say one way or the other what this is.”

Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.

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