South Carolina lawmaker accused of beating wife resigns

Christopher Corley is seen in this July 8, 2015 photo taken inside South Carolina’s Statehouse in Columbia, S.C.

AP

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A South Carolina state lawmaker accused of beating his wife bloody resigned on Tuesday rather than be expelled from the Statehouse. Rep. Chris Corley still faces a felony aggravated domestic violence charge that could put him in prison for up to 20 years. 

House Speaker Jay Lucas read Corley’s one-sentence resignation letter to his colleagues, which came as he was preparing to introduce legislation forcing Corley from his House seat. 

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This Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016 photo provided by the Aiken County Detention Center, S.C., shows South Carolina Rep. Chris Corley, who authorities said attacked his wife in their Graniteville home.

AP

“I am grateful that the House did not have to take such extraordinary measures,” said Lucas, R-Hartsville. 

While the state constitution gives the House authority to remove a member for disorderly conduct, the House hasn’t expelled one of its own since the 1870s, according to the speaker’s office. 

Corley, a Republican best known for his defense of the Confederate flag, was easily re-elected with no opposition to a second term in November. But his troubles at home became public record through a desperate 911 call the day after Christmas.

“Please stop” can be heard repeatedly in the recording released by the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office. “Just stop daddy. Just stop. ... Daddy, why are you doing this?” their children say.

Legislative leaders had called on the 36-year-old attorney from Graniteville to resign ahead of the session that started Jan. 10.

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, whose district includes much of Corley’s, said state leaders had to make clear that “it’s not OK to beat up your wife.”

While Corley is legally innocent until proven guilty, “there’s a big difference between the criminal and political side,” said Massey, R-Edgefield. “It’s a bad thing and we ought to be calling it out.”

He and others also said Corley’s constituents deserve representation. Lucas suspended Corley from his seat on Jan. 4 shortly after the indictment.

Corley said his wife tried to punch him after accusing him of cheating, and the police report noted a scratch on his forehead. Corley’s wife told deputies he stopped hitting her on Dec. 26 only after noticing she was bleeding and hearing the screams of two of their three children, ages 2 and 8.

He was initially charged with first-degree domestic violence, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and pointing a firearm. The grand jury returned a more serious charge of “domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature,” punishable by up to 20 years. The gun charge is punishable by five years.

Prosecutors said in court that Corley threw his wife on their bed and began hitting her in the head, once even biting her nose as their young children stood in the doorway. Corley took away his wife’s cellphone so she couldn’t call for help, but she managed to make the 911 call on her Apple Watch, assistant attorney general Kinli Abee said.

The attack ended with Corley pointing a gun at his wife and then going to a bathroom, which allowed her to run with her children to her mother’s house across the street, Abee said.

Corley’s attorney did not dispute the facts in court.

A judge set Corley’s bail at $50,000 on the upgraded charge last week, and he spent a night in jail. The pro-gun lawmaker was also ordered to turn in his weapons and passport and not contact his wife or their children without permission.

Lawmakers said hearing the children’s screams on the 911 recording compelled them to speak out.

During the 2015 debate on whether to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds, which followed the massacre in Charleston of nine black churchgoers by a white man who brandished the rebel banner, Corley mocked his colleagues by suggesting they raise the white flag of surrender instead.

In his Christmas card to House Republicans months later, he told his colleagues they lacked morals for voting to take down the flag, and suggested they “ask for forgiveness of all your sins such as betrayal.”

Corley called it a joke, in his smart-aleck style. Democrats got a card with a photo of his children.