A Richland County jury took two hours Friday afternoon to find a 48-year-old Rosewood-area woman guilty of shooting one neighbor and terrorizing others in a 2017 race-related incident, 5th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Byron Gipson said Sunday.
The woman, Mandy Fortson, 48, of Barwick Street off Rosewood Drive, was found guilty of attempted murder, discharging a firearm into a dwelling and breach of the peace in a high and aggravated manner, Gipson said.
Judge Robert Hood sentenced Fortson, a former county paramedic, to 15 years in prison on the attempted murder charge and five years each on the other two charges. The two five-year charges will be served concurrently and added to the 15 years for attempted murder, making a 20-year total sentence.
During the trial, Fortson testified in her own defense and denied doing any shooting that night. Her attorney, Theo Williams of Lexington, could not be reached for comment.
Gipson, who is the chief elected prosecutor of the 5th Judicial Circuit, played an active role in trial and cross-examined Fortson.
He said evidence in the case showed that on the night of Feb. 22, 2017, Fortson went into her backyard and fired her gun, a .41 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver, at two of her neighbors’ houses. There were children in both houses.
“All the shooting was from her backyard. She fired six shots and then reloaded,” Gipson said.
An African American family lived in one house, and a family of Mexican heritage lived in the other. As Fortson was firing, she was shouting racial epithets about both ethnicities, said Gipson and Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, whose department investigated the case. Fortson is white.
“This shows the need for a hate crime law,” Lott told The State newspaper on Sunday. “A hate crime law would have allowed the judge to enhance her sentence.”
Gipson said if South Carolina had had a hate crimes law, he would have included that in the list of crimes with which Fortson was charged.
Injury, trauma from shooting
Bullets struck one man, an African American, in the wrist and hip, Gipson said. Bullets entered the other family’s house but no one was physically injured. However, that family’s children are still traumatized from the incident, Gipson said.
Numerous witnesses testified that Fortson was the shooter, Gipson said. The revolver, which is nearly a foot long, was also introduced, he said.
When police arrived on the scene, they found a sign on the door that said, “Forget about the dog. Beware of owner.” The sign had a picture of a gun, Gipson said: “It’s enough to get your attention.”
Although plenty of evidence linked Fortson to the crime, prosecutors never did ascertain a motive. “Nobody knows why,” Gipson said.
Earlier this year, the S.C. House passed a hate crimes law that would have enhanced penalties in crimes with proven racial or other overtones.
However, the state Senate adjourned for the year without taking it up.
The measure would have provided enhanced penalties for certain violent crimes committed against someone based on their actual or perceived age, political opinion, race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender, national origin or physical or mental disability.
Other prosecutors on the case were April Sampson and Emily Nellermoe.
Rosewood is a sprawling residential community that is a popular Columbia neighborhood near the downtown area. This part of Rosewood was in Richland County and not the city.