Will the accused murderer get another slap on the wrist at Monday’s hearing in Beaufort?
Jonathan Fair is accused of shooting two adults and his own child, toddler Ariana Fair, during a custody exchange on October 1, 2023, in Beaufort. Sadly, little Ariana did not survive. This tragedy unfolded as other children nearby looked on in shock and disbelief.
As Fair faces these charges in the 14th judicial circuit on Monday, a review of his rap sheet raises questions…Why was he not already in jail? Why did the judges and prosecutors appear so lukewarm about prosecuting violent crimes? Could this tragedy have been avoided? The South Carolina 14th judicial circuit is comprised of five counties: Allendale, Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton, and Jasper. In three of the five counties of the 14th circuit, Fair amassed a significant criminal history.
Fair was charged with 2nd degree burglary in Hampton County in July 2015, but he was never indicted.
In January 2020, Fair was arrested for armed robbery in Jasper County; Judge Carmen Mullen set a surety bond of 10% of $16,666.66 ($1,666.66).
Fair’s first Beaufort County charge was for drug possession in 2017. In April 2018, July 2018, and April 2019, he was charged with DUS (driving under suspension). In July 2019, Fair was charged with unlawful carrying of a pistol and released on $10,000 bond set by Judge Carmen Mullen. The same month of this weapons charge, Fair acquired two more drug possession charges for hash/marijuana and ‘other controlled substances.’ Remarkably, all three drug charges appear to be listed as a first offense.
In February 2021, Fair was charged with driving without license or registration. In July of the same year, Fair would be charged with 3rd degree domestic violence (DV) but released on his personal recognizance while he was out on bond for armed robbery in Jasper County. (This news outlet has learned that Fair is believed to have fathered at least 7 children among several women; one of these women is allegedly the victim in the DV charge).
Fair was again charged with 3rd degree DV in January 2023. This time the prosecutor asked the Court to revoke Fair’s bond, but Judge Robert Bonds refused. The judge required a cash bond of $37,500.00 and in June 2023, Fair pled guilty to armed robbery as the prosecutor’s office dropped the weapons charge, and this effectively ended the case.
Following the October 1st murder of Ariana Fair and the attempted murder of two adults, Jonathan Fair apparently eluded Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) officers for over two weeks, eventually turning himself in on October 16, 2023.
Fair is expected to request bail when he is before the court in Beaufort on December 11, 2023. In addition to the murder charge and the attempted murder charges (x 2), Fair is also charged with possession of firearm or ammunition by person convicted of violent felony, breach of peace, possession of a weapon during a violent crime, unlawfully placing a child at risk of or causing harm or willfully abandoning the child (x 2) and discharging a firearm inside the city limits.
Did the Department of Social Services (DSS) or law enforcement miss opportunities to protect these children?
Curious if an oversight was to blame for the lack of a timely intervention by DSS that could have helped protect Ariana and her siblings, we reached out to Captain Mark Mattox at BCSO in a freedom of information act (FOIA) request for their policy involving DSS referrals when DV is charged. Captain Mattox responded, “There is no requirement in our policy that we must contact DSS involving DV cases. In addition, there is nothing in the SC Statutes that requires we contact DSS in any circumstance.”
We subsequently contacted Senator Katrina Shealy, Senator Tom Davis, Representative Bill Herbkersman, and Representative Weston Newton for their comments on how law enforcement could be better interpreting the existing statutes designed to protect children. At the time of the publication of this article, only Senator Davis has responded to our request with a promise to circle back following his time in Columbia next week.
Will Batchelor, Director of Communications of the Office of Communications and External Affairs for DSS, was also contacted by our media outlet with questions around this topic. Though Batchelor acknowledged receipt, he declined to answer any questions.
In the SC Fourteenth Judicial Circuit, it is not uncommon for criminal activity to flourish under the noses of the powerful.
Appointed by Governor Sanford following the retirement of Randolph Murdaugh, III, in 2006, the 14th judicial circuit has been led by Solicitor Duffie Stone since that time. Known for light sentences, an anemic approach to crime, and questionable judgment, was such a tragedy like Ariana’s inevitable in Stone’s backyard?
According to the Center for Judicial Excellence (CJE), 975 children have been killed by their divorcing or separating parent since 2008. The CJE is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to protect child abuse and domestic violence survivors in the U.S. family court system while fostering accountability in the judicial branch. Documentation is being gathered by CJE to promote child-centered policy reforms to help protect children during this vulnerable, and potentially volatile, time in their life.
Along with organizations such as One Mom’s Battle (OMB), the National Safe Parent Organization (NSPO), and the work of Danielle Pollack, the CJE advocates for legislation such as Kayden’s Law which was recently incorporated into the Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA).
Kayden’s Law was named after a 7-year-old girl who was brutally beaten to death by her father after the court determined that unsupervised visits with father were in the child’s best interest, ignoring his violent and erratic behavior as well as the testimony of an expert.
To help promote more responsible determinations in child custody hearings, Kayden’s Law will incentivize states to make safer, more thoughtful determinations concerning child custody.