Clerical Error Tags Man as Violent Offender

John Fortunato was only 21 years old when he drove the getaway car while a 16-year-old boy allegedly pointed a pistol at three other teenagers attempting to buy marijuana from them.

Provided / SC DOC

John Fortunato

The young Ladson man and the 16-year-old made off with $20 in the stick-up, and Summerville police arrested them on Dec. 22, 2010, on charges of armed robbery, weapons and narcotics violations. Fortunato pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of strong arm robbery in July, and a Dorchester County judge sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

Somewhere along the way, a clerical error listed Fortunato, now 23, on the original charge of armed robbery, landing him in a maximum-security facility under a violent offender designation among some of South Carolina’s most hardened criminals, with no chance of parole. His mother said Fortunato recently tried to hang himself while serving time Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville.

S.C. Dept. of Corrections officials show no records of the suicide attempt but do label Fortunato a member of their “crisis intervention” program, meaning Fortunato receives counseling and remains under a camera’s watch.

The prosecutor in the case, Russell Hilton, said Wednesday that his staff has been working with corrections officials to straighten out the mistake, which he described as “probably a clerical error.

“Obviously, he can’t serve more of a sentence than what he’s sentenced to,” Hilton said.