COLUMBIA — South Carolina Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said pointedly if Rep. Chris Corley doesn't resign from the State House of Representatives given his indictment Wednesday on felony domestic violence and weapons charges, he wouldn't be surprised if there were expulsion efforts on the Legislature side.
House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville, suspended Corley, 36, who represents District 84 in the House of Representatives, on Wednesday afternoon, after the South Carolina Attorney General's Office announced the indictment on charges of domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature and pointing and presenting a weapon at a person.
Corley is charged with punching his wife with a closed fist until she bled, then pointing a handgun at her before threatening to kill himself the night of Dec. 26 at the couple's Graniteville home.
The domestic violence charge carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, while the gun charge carries a sentence of up to five years in prison.
Corley was initially charged with a lesser charge of first-degree domestic violence.
Massey told reporters Thursday during a workshop through the South Carolina Press Association that he would be surprised if Corley, who works as an attorney in Augusta, didn't resign. Massey also said if Corley doesn't resign, he wouldn't be surprised if there were efforts in the House for Corley's expulsion.
As of Thursday afternoon, Corley had not resigned from his elected seat. The Aiken Standard's attempts to reach Corley have been unsuccessful.
S.C. Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York, noted during the workshop that Lucas followed the process in the law after Corley was indicted, which resulted in his suspension. Pope also said Corley is innocent until proven guilty and that he believes the criminal justice system has to take its course.
Massey said Pope is "absolutely right" on the criminal side, but he said there is a "very big" difference in his mind between the criminal side and the political side.
"I think we all have an obligation to say, ‘This is not OK. It is not OK to beat up your wife;' and I want to be absolutely clear about that, and I think we need (to hear) that more from state leaders," he told reporters. "I don’t think we need to have silence on this issue. We need to call them out. This is not OK."
Massey, continued, "When you’re looking at an indictment, I don’t how you stay in the game, especially with those type of charges. Folks, the only thing worse than an high and aggravated indictment is murder. You don’t get anymore. You don’t get any higher than that unless you kill somebody. ..."
Those in Corley’s district that live in Graniteville, Beech Island and Jackson need representation in the House," Massey said, and added, “And they shouldn’t be embarrassed by the people who are there.”
South Carolina has repeatedly ranked among the deadliest states for women killed by men. In 2015, Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law a domestic violence measure, which included a partial gun ban. Corley supported the bill.
Massey, who is a member of the Aiken County Legislative Delegation, like Corley, said his suspension is personal.
"This is more personal for me I guess because the Senate district that I represent probably includes about 80 percent of Rep. Corley’s House district. Those folks are not going to have a representative. They're not going to have that voice in the House," he said.
Massey said for the most part, delegation members in Aiken are close knit and they will help those residents.
Massey said he and Sens. Tom Young, R-Aiken, and Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, are going to do their “very best” to represent Corley's constituents and the county regardless, but added, “It’s not fair those folks who should have a voice in the House who are now looking at a suspended House member.”
Massey had previously not called for Corley's resignation. Though Thursday he said the 911 recorded audio of Corley's wife and children screaming for their "daddy, just stop" changed his mind.
S.C. Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell, D-Lancaster, also called the 911 audio "terrifying," after echoing earlier comments from S.C. Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, that the lawmaker should step down.
"I don't know why he has not resigned yet," Powers Norrell said. "... What is described, and what I heard on that 911 phone call is ... just terrifying and horrific."
Given that the state's domestic violence statistics have been at the forefront in recent years, Corley's case has brought more attention to the issue, she said.
Should Corley choose not to resign, Simrill said there are measures within the House to release Corley of his elected duties.
"Should he choose not to resign, there are measures within the House that would go before the Ethics Committee with a complaint. The Ethics Committee would find probable cause, and then Mr. Corley could be expelled," Simrill said. "That being said, (my) advice would be I think it's appropriate that he resign."
Earlier this week, S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, also asked Corley to do what's "honorable" and immediately resign.
Though, Pope said with respect to Taylor, "It’s not our place to call for him to resign. It's difficult (for) his family, for your (Aiken County) community. I think we have to let the criminal justice system take place."
Following Corley's indictment, other members of the Aiken County Legislative Delegation also weighed in on the issue.
Setzler called on Corley to resign, and Young told the Aiken Standard on Wednesday that Corley's constituents "should let him know whether they want him to resign."
“We, as the Aiken County Legislative Delegation, want the people of the area that he represents to know that they are still represented by the rest of the Aiken County delegation, and we'll be glad to help them any way they need," said S.C. Rep. Bill Hixon, R-North Augusta. "They’re not un-represented. The rest of the delegation will take care of their needs and problems."
Aiken County Sheriff's Office deputies responded to Corley's home on the 100 block of Sugar Hill Drive in Graniteville the night of Dec. 26, after Aiken City dispatch received a call from Corley's 37-year-old wife. The couple's children can be overheard in the background of 911 recordings screaming, "Just stop, daddy. Just stop."
Dispatch received a second call from Corley's mother-in-law, who lives across the street.
"There's a man threatening to kill himself," the mother-in-law is heard in 911 audio recording. "He hit his wife ... and he's threatening to kill himself. He has a weapon. Yes, he does. It's a gun."
Warrants provided by the Sheriff's Office state Corley, in the presence of an 8-year-old child, did "cause physical harm and injury" to his wife, by "striking her about the head and face with a closed fist and further did, after threatening to kill the victim, point a Smith & Wesson ... handgun at the victim causing her to fear for her life."
The indictment states Corley did cause physical harm or injury to his wife by "beating her about the face, head and body with a closed fist while in the presence of a minor and with a gun, manifesting in extreme indifference to the value of human life."
Another child – 2 years old – also was present, police reported.
Corley's wife told deputies he was "caught cheating." She said he only stopped assaulting her because he heard the kids screaming and noticed blood coming from her head, the report states. Police wrote Corley then went to his car and came back inside and pointed a handgun at his wife, stated he was going to kill himself, then went into a bedroom.
Corley told police that he and his wife were arguing because she thought he was cheating on her. He said his wife attempted to strike him in the face with her fist, where he then pushed her off of him. During the push, he said his wife scratched him on the forehead.
Corley was released from jail on Dec. 27 on a $20,000 surety bond, with the condition he cannot contact his wife or possess a gun.
"It is not acceptable for someone who is not in elected office. It is absolutely not acceptable for someone who is in elected office," Massey said. "Fair or not, we’re held to a higher standard, and sometimes that’s not fair; but in a situation like this, I think it’s fair to hold us to a higher standard and say, ‘This is not OK.' We’ve got to set this example and say this is not right. I don’t want anybody to think I think it’s OK because I hadn’t said something so far. I think it’s a bad thing. I think we ought to be calling it out."
Attorney General Alan Wilson's Office will prosecute the case against Corley.
Corley's first court hearing is expected in February.