COLUMBIA — The disbarred attorney charged with ambushing law enforcement officers in a deadly mass shooting in Florence told a judge Friday he doesn’t want his victims to benefit from any assets he may have left after spending the past two years in jail.
“I don’t want a dime to go to the victims,” Frederick Hopkins Jr. said. “Not a dime.”
Hopkins blurted out his wishes in a response to a suggestion Judge Eugene Griffith Jr. made aimed at getting the accused sharpshooter legal counsel. Griffith said Hopkins might qualify for a public defender if he placed his assets with a court-appointed receiver, leaving him indigent and potentially providing money for victims of the Oct. 3, 2018, shooting.
Hopkins is accused of opening fire on sheriff’s deputies and police after they went to his Ashton Drive home to interview his son, Seth Hopkins, and serve a search warrant in connection with allegations of child sex abuse. Two officers were killed in the ambush and five more wounded. Fred Hopkins now faces multiple counts of murder and attempted murder.
Hopkins’ path to trial has been slowed by his uncertain legal presentation and the coronavirus pandemic, which sidelined the judge for a spell after he tested positive for the disease. But Griffith cleared the way Friday for Hopkins to begin receiving legal help and said he now expects the case could go to trial in the next nine months to a year.
“I want the court to realize that I have been here 26 months, technically without an attorney, with no discovery,” Hopkins said.
“The wheels of justice are gonna start turning,” Griffith replied.
Friday’s hearing was held virtually, with Hopkins appearing on video from the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Columbia.
The proceeding picked up where a Sept. 16 hearing left off, with Hopkins challenging a previous judge’s finding that he was not indigent, and therefore, ineligible for a public defender. Hopkins lived in a sprawling home in one of Florence’s most affluent neighborhoods. At least some of his family still lives in the stately brick house, which is held in a family trust. His wife, a prominent attorney in the area, filed for divorce after the shooting.
Hopkins claimed that all of his assets were stolen by a now-dead individual while Florence County deputies were guarding his house.
“None of the burglaries, if we can call them that, were ever investigated by the whatever sheriff was appointed to replace disgraced Kenney Boone,” Hopkins said.
Kenney Boone was sheriff of Florence County at the time of the shooting. His 15-year reign ended with a January guilty plea to embezzlement and misconduct charges.
Griffith gave Hopkins an option to agree to place whatever assets remained in holding with a court-appointed receiver, which would make him “indigent on the spot.” Then, the judge said, he could be assigned legal counsel.
“A civil attorney can collect them, inventory them, and perhaps we could have monies for the victims,” Griffith said.
That’s when Hopkins asserted he didn’t want a dime to go to the victims.
Griffith explained that the assets would be collected and held for future disposition, adding that multiple people could eventually make claims against them.
“I don’t know what assets there are going to be,” Griffith said. “It may not be enough to fight over.”
Griffith told Hopkins that if he agreed to the terms, he could appoint him two lawyers that very morning.
“That’s fine, I agree,” Hopkins said.
The judge then appointed Ron Hazzard of the 15th Circuit, as well as an attorney from the Division of Capital Defense to assist Hopkins. The DCD represents indigent defendants in death-penalty trials statewide.
“We need to get to work on this case,” Griffith said.
Earlier this year, state prosecutors asked for a mental competency exam for Hopkins after The Post and Courier published several letters in which the accused gunman described a four-decade battle with PTSD that included flashbacks, nightmares, erratic reactions to stress and a “vitriolic, almost mercurial temper.”
Hopkins, a Vietnam veteran, told the newspaper that when officers arrived at his home to interview his son about an alleged sexual assault, he snapped into “Saigon-mode.” Seth Hopkins has since pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a child.
Hopkins has filed a motion for an immunity hearing, and the judge said that it could most likely be heard before jury trials are resumed. Facing a steady rise of COVID-19 infections, South Carolina’s top court official last week again halted in-person jury trials across the state.
Hopkins asked the judge to allow him to use the law library at the detention center. The judge said that would be suggested to the jail administration, but he did not order it.
“In prior shakedowns, they have removed all of my legal documents,” Hopkins said. “In the process, documents have mysteriously disappeared, personal property has disappeared and I have been incredibly prejudiced by their bizarre behavior.
“I need protection.”
Judge Griffith said that he would pass along the information to the new court-appointed lawyers, and a hearing could be made on short notice to address any issues Hopkins has.