Home » Bowen Turner’s Release From Prison Puts South Carolina’s Justice System on Trial Once Again

Bowen Turner’s Release From Prison Puts South Carolina’s Justice System on Trial Once Again

This week, thrice accused rapist Bowen Turner became a free man after serving just over a year for a probation violation—a probation sentence originally orchestrated by South Carolina lawyer-legislator defense attorney Brad Hutto and prosecutor-turned-judicial candidate David Miller. In October, Dallas Stoller’s parents first learned their daughter’s alleged rapist would be released from prison in an automated message from the South Carolina Department of Corrections. Bowen Turner’s release would be one day after the two-year anniversary of Dallas’ death from self-inflicted wounds on Nov. 14, 2021.

I first learned about Dallas Stoller’s case in 2019, when I was a reporter for The Island Packet in Hilton Head, S.C., investigating the boat crash that killed Mallory Beach. One of South Carolina’s most privileged sons, Paul Murdaugh, would end up being charged for her death, but he would be killed by his father, Alex Murdaugh, before he could stand trial. The case was complicated and infuriating, and it was my first glimpse into South Carolina’s “two systems of justice,” where the rich and powerful were given sweetheart backroom deals for their crimes, or their charges disappeared altogether.

At the time, I remember thinking Bowen Turner sounded a lot like Paul Murdaugh. Bowen was a privileged kid who had allegedly raped three girls—including high-school student Dallas Stoller—in three different South Carolina counties between 2018 and 2019. When he was arrested and charged in 2019 with one, Bowen was wearing a collared shirt—not a prison jumpsuit—in his mugshot, and he also had a state senator, Brad Hutto, representing him, just like Paul Murdaugh had his father’s cronies state Senator Dick Harpootlian, and high-profile attorney Jim Griffin as his defense team.

As a wealthy, connected son of South Carolina, Bowen received the “gentleman’s treatment” for his alleged misdeeds—it looked like classic, good old boy shenanigans. Bowen received very light bond conditions for the second attack—the victim in his first crime did not wish to be named—and then he allegedly raped a third girl while violating his bond.

But a few years later, there was a particularly heartbreaking update in the case. After Bowen was charged, his alleged victim Dallas Stoller faced bullying and retaliation in her community. Classmates started the hashtag #FreeBowen, and even teachers and parents called her out and said she was lying. It was devastating to her, and her mental health suffered.

Dallas Stoller died of self-inflicted wounds in 2021.

The Stoller family continued to push for justice, but in April 2022, they were notified that South Carolina assistant solicitor David Miller had dropped the charges against Bowen for Dallas’ assault, saying that since Dallas Stoller was no longer alive to testify, he didn’t want to waste his or a jury’s time on a “case he couldn’t win.” Bowen received a sweetheart, backroom plea deal of just five years probation for all of the crimes. Even more infuriating: solicitor David Miller was applying to be a judge, and state senators like Turner’s attorney Brad Hutto were among the people who might be qualifying him for that lofty position.

We had Dallas’ sister, Brette, as a guest on our podcast Murdaugh Murders, even though we had spent our previous 39 episodes discussing the Murdaugh murders, Stephen Smith, and related matters. But all the classic tropes of the broken South Carolina justice system seemed to be at play: a privileged kid got little to no penalty for horrendous crimes; a state senator and his judicial influence were bought and paid for; victims and their families were treated like shit every step of the way. We had a feeling our audience would get just as enraged about Bowen Turner as they had about Alex Murdaugh, and we were right. The day after our episode was published, the story was picked up by national and international outlets. Victims were invited to go on Dr. Phil and Nancy Grace; Brette was thrilled that the world was paying attention.

Bowen is out this week because the system failed to protect our girls and the system chose to give a good ole boy an easy out instead of forcing him to face accountability.

And breaking news came just a few weeks later. In the previous years, Bowen was in violation of his bond conditions over 65 times without facing any penalties. He went golfing; he went out of state; he even visited Dallas Stoller’s gravesite. But after Dallas Stoller’s case began getting national media attention, things changed. Bowen was finally arrested for one of his numerous probation violations in May 2022. Apparently he had been drunk and disorderly in public, plus he was still underage. In July 2022, his probation was revoked and he was sentenced to a special prison under the Youthful Offender Act.

But with Bowen’s release this week, all of these issues are back on the surface. Bowen is out this week because the system failed to protect our girls and the system chose to give a good ole boy an easy out instead of forcing him to face accountability. As this week also marks the two-year anniversary of Dallas Stoller’s death, her family still hasn’t stopped fighting for change and advocating for judicial accountability. Nine of 16 South Carolina solicitors have taken up the cause to change the way judges are selected, certain South Carolina legislators are echoing this need for change, and thousands have answered calls to action we promote on our podcasts, Cup of Justice and True Sunlight (formerly Murdaugh Murders Podcast) to hold public agencies accountable.

I hope Bowen Turner learned something during his year in prison, and I hope he never hurts another woman. We post his picture on our social media feeds, and we shared an image of his listing in the sex offender registry because I want women to know his face and be careful around him, especially when he’s drinking.

I also want them to know that the work of justice continues. Bowen’s prosecutor David Miller, who approved his sweetheart deal, is one step closer to being a judge in South Carolina this week. He was deemed “qualified” by the South Carolina bar. We shared with our audience how to make complaints to their lawmakers and continue to showcase laws and lawmakers who are not making our state better. Our state does not need judges who treat victims’ families the way Miller treated the Stoller family. And our state does not need to promote the status quo.

I realized years ago that this is a marathon and not a sprint. The systemic change we call for needs time, attention, resources, and a whole lot of sunshine. But with our listeners, The Daily Beast readers, and everyone who wants to see change come to our justice systems and beyond, we plan to stick to our mission. So stay tuned, stay pesky and stay in the sunlight… we’re just getting started.

Mandy Matney is a journalist, podcaster, and the author of Blood On Their Hands: Murder, Corruption, and the Fall of the Murdaugh Dynasty, out this week from William Morrow.


November 2023