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Man pleads guilty to cutting off acquaintance’s hand for insurance money

By John Monk, The State (Columbia, S.C.) –

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Gerald “Trey” Hardin III, a self-described crack cocaine addict, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Columbia to being part of a scheme to get some $671,000 in insurance proceeds by chopping off a mentally handicapped man’s hand with a chainsaw.

“I was on drugs real bad at the time … crack cocaine,” Hardin, 34, of Cayce, S.C., a short, stocky man with light brown hair, told U.S. Judge Cameron Currie just before pleading guilty to a felony charge of conspiracy to commit federal mail fraud.

The dismemberment of Michael “Porkchop” Weaver, 52, of Sumter County, S.C., took place in 2008 when Hardin and another Sumter man, David Player, tied Weaver’s left arm to a tree with rags, stretched it out, then lopped it off below the elbow with a pole chainsaw, assistant U.S. Attorney Dean Eichelberger told the court.

Although Hardin and Player cut off Weaver’s hand in May 2008, the break in the case that resulted in Hardin’s plea didn’t come for several years, when Player’s wife, then getting a divorce, tipped federal authorities to information that caused the FBI to investigate, Eichelberger said in court.

Player, who has been charged in the alleged scheme but not tried, for many years was Weaver’s legal representative, according to an indictment in the case. The indictment says Player took out insurance policies on Weaver that would pay off in the event of Weaver’s death or dismemberment. As Weaver’s representative, Player had the legal status to collect the money and spend it, according to court filings.

Weaver is a “mentally disabled adult male, a lifelong resident of Sumter County, illiterate, alcoholic,” Eichelberger said.

Hardin now will be expected to testify against Player in his trial, which is scheduled for mid-October, prosecutors said.

Hardin will be sentenced in November. He could receive a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine and be required to pay restitution.

Player used some of the money to buy a moped, a camper and a house, Eichelberger said in court.

Federal authorities said they do not know where the entire $671,000 is. After depositing the insurance proceeds, Player withdrew large amounts of cash – some $292,000 — according to court filings and Eichelberger’s court statements.

After cutting off the hand, Hardin and Player took Weaver to the emergency room at Tuomey Medical Center. Nurses asked Hardin to go back and retrieve the hand to see if it could be reattached. Hardin went back and got the hand, which was still lying on the ground.

Player and Hardin told medical workers that they had been trimming a tree when Hardin lost control of the chainsaw and accidentally cut off Weaver’s hand, Eichelberger said.

Weaver was transported to Charlotte, N.C., where doctors reattached the hand. But the reattachment didn’t last, and it had to be amputated again a week later, Eichelberger said.

Eichelberger said a key piece of evidence in the case was the nature of Weaver’s wound. An orthopedist who examined the injury told federal investigators Weaver’s hand was “completely severed at a right angle to the forearm … a surprisingly clean cut and one that had minimal shredding of the flesh.”

Normal chainsaw injuries are “virtually always jagged, at compound angles and demonstrate signs of skipping over the bone,” Eichelberger told Currie.

After court, Eichelberger said Weaver knew about the scheme and had agreed to go along with it. But in view of Weaver’s low mental capacities, it would not have been right to charge him in connection with the scheme, Eichelberger said.

There is no evidence that Weaver got much, if any, money from the insurance proceeds, Eichelberger said.

Hardin testified in court he didn’t know that Player stood to get some $671,000 in insurance money from the scheme. Hardin said he himself only expected to get $5,000, but it wasn’t clear if he managed to get that much.

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