Trying murder cases without a body a challenge for prosecutors

There are now two active murder cases in Horry County in which no body has been found.

Along with the Angie Pipkin case, Sidney and Tammy Moorer are charged with murder in the disappearance of Heather Elvis.

Former Horry County Solicitor Greg Hembree says murder cases that don't involve a body are a challenge for prosecutors, but there is a way of trying those cases that usually ends in a conviction.

Alice Donovan and Kynande Bennett were both victims in local murder cases that resulted in guilty verdicts, with no body being found at the time.

Though Donovan was a federal trial, Hembree was familiar with both cases.

He says in cases like that, the prosecutor has to prove a person has been killed. He does that by showing a pattern of life that's been disrupted.

"So the things that they normally do, the people they normally see, the places they normally go, leading up to that moment when they disappear, they just dropped off the planet, and then through circumstantial evidence you show that their pattern's been upset," Hembree said.

That can be done with a victim's cell phone records, bank records or even Facebook pages that are not updated.

Hembree says prosecutors might negotiate with a defendant for a lighter sentence if he leads them to the body, but he says they have to be careful not to "give away the store."

"On the one side, you want to find the body, you want to achieve those objectives, but your primary objective is seeking justice and whatever that means in that case."

When there's no body, a defense attorney can always claim the apparent victim was someone who wanted to disappear.

But Hembree says, that's hard to prove.

"They're going to tell somebody, 'Feed my dog, I'm leaving, I've decided I'm going to Idaho to live in the mountains.' Somebody's going to know something, even if they don't know how to get ahold of them."

Hembree says when you're a solicitor, you're at the mercy of circumstances. He says you have to do the best you can to seek justice, because you don't get to pick the cases that land on your doorstep.

The trial for the Moorers is set for June 27. No trial date has been set for Randy Robinson.