Teen Saves Herself With Text Message

Sunday, September 16th 2007, 3:22 pm
By: News On 6

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A year after he was taken into custody, a man goes on trial this week on charges he held a 14-year-old girl captive in an underground bunker until she summoned help with a cell phone text message.

Pretrial publicity prompted the judge to move the trial of Vinson Filyaw nearly 200 miles, from Kershaw County northeast of Columbia to the state's southern tip. The case gained national attention when the girl saved herself after being held more than a week.

Jury selection was to begin Monday after the court handles some pretrial issues. Filyaw, who has been held without bail, faces 10 counts of criminal sexual conduct, which each carry a potential sentence of up to 30 years in prison. He also is charged with kidnapping, impersonating an officer and possession of an incendiary device.

The cavity, covered with plywood and leaves, contained a hand-dug privy, a camp stove and crude shelves fashioned out of branches and canvas. Authorities said Filyaw, 37, brought the girl there after dressing up as a police officer and leading her away from a school bus stop.

The girl waited until Filyaw fell asleep, then used his cell phone to text message her mother.

``Hi mom,'' the message read. ``I'm in a hole across from Charm Hill where the big trucks go in and out. There's a bomb. Call police.''

Investigators found the girl early on Sept. 16, 2006. The cell phone signal and her reference to ``big trucks'' led them to the wooded area near a quarry, less than a mile from her home. Once in the area, they heard her cries.

Early the next morning, authorities located Filyaw walking along a highway. He was carrying a pellet gun, a Taser, and a hunting knife but surrendered when confronted.

Family members have said the 14-year-old, described by her mother as ``a very strong girl'', has worked toward a normal life. The Associated Press normally does not identify people alleging sexual assault.

Both defense and prosecutors agreed to have the trial moved to Beaufort County because of the intense publicity. Filyaw attorney Jack Duncan declined to speak with a reporter ahead of the trial.

At the time of his arrest, Filyaw was already being sought in connection with abuse of a 12-year-old girl. Authorities have said that charge in late 2005 had led Filyaw, an unemployed construction worker, to build an elaborate series of tunnels and hideouts.

Filyaw's girlfriend, Cynthia Hall, and his mother, Ginger Nell Cobb, have been charged with helping him elude authorities. Hall also has been charged as an accessory in the case involving the 12-year-old.

Earlier this year, another South Carolina man involved in a similar case was acquitted, but legal experts said each case is different.

In April, a Darlington County jury found Kenneth Glenn Hinson, a convicted sex offender who had spent nine years in prison, not guilty of raping two 17-year-old girls in a bunker underneath a tool shed. He testified the sex was consensual; those girls were over the legal age of consent in South Carolina, which is 16.

The verdict stunned prosecutors, who had spent a year building their case.

``To the public, it appears like a big similarity,'' said Alex Postic, a Columbia defense attorney who worked for prosecutor Barney Giese, who is trying Filyaw. ``There are rape cases that are tried all the time ... and there are going to be aspects of any case that are very similar.''