“I will beat the shit out of you. If I was going to kill you, I would kill you. I don’t need a gun. You will get your face smashed in like Shanel. Don’t touch my fucking drugs.”
If and when Assistant State Attorney Jason Lewis prosecutes Brenan Robert Hill on a second-degree attempted murder charge that exposes Hill to 25 years to life, Lewis will probably lead his opening and closing arguments to the jury with those words. Hill yelled them at his 22-year-old girlfriend not long before he shot her in the head. The woman somehow survived the bullet, though she was in a coma for weeks and may never be the same again.
Detectives found the video of Hill’s threats in the victim’s phone. She had recorded him. The “Shanel” Hill refers to is Shanell Torchia, the mother of Hill’s child in Pennsylvania. He’d smashed her face in with his head. He’d fractured her bones and changed her life. His history with hand-free, gun-free violence likely explains why he said he could kill his 22-year-old girlfriend without a gun. He was charged with aggravated assault and other charges in Pennsylvania, and ran off. He was a fugitive from justice, evading it in Palm Coast, where his mother had moved, and where he’d found another woman to haunt.
But in the end, it was Hill, 32, who unknowingly led detectives to the gun used in the shooting.
Detectives knew they had their suspect within hours: they had him booked at the county jail on unrelated drug charges, but that was after they’d interviewed him about the shooting and concluded that they had better keep him from fleeing as they built their case, according to court papers filed by the State Attorney. (See: “Sheriff’s Detectives Had Friday Shooting Suspect Brenan Hill, a Fugitive, in Custody Within Hours.”)
Hill had shut down and stopped talking to detectives after giving them a series of different stories about what had happened around midmorning on March 26, starting with a frantic 911 call in which he claimed he and his girlfriend were the victims of a robbery and ending weeks later with: It was an accident. In the meantime, he’d left too many digital clues while the stories he told, including the claim that he was attacked in an “alleyway” by a man he described as Black, in dreads, and “real dirty.”
Few details were available at the time of the shooting, when even Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies were initially confused by the conflicting stories even if they weren’t confused about their suspect. It didn’t help that before calling 911, Hill had called his mother, who herself called 911 to report that her son and his girlfriend had been the victim of a robbery “in traffic.” She, too, had gotten one of the details wrong.
He and his girlfriend had been staying in room 310 at the Microtel off Old Kings Road for two weeks. They had to check out the morning morning of March 26. Hill’s 911 call came in at 9:45 a.m.
He said between screams to the 911 dispatcher that he was driving to the hospital after someone who’d walked up to his car window to buy weed “just tried to rob me and they shot my girlfriend in the head.” He reached the hospital at 9:50 a.m. The very short time frame between his 911 call and his arrival at the hospital was one of the numerous clues to detectives that Hill was not being truthful: it would have taken longer for him to travel from the Microtel to the hospital in Friday morning traffic.
Cpl. Daniel Parthemore was at the emergency bay at the hospital when Hill arrived. There, Hill told the deputy that the shooting took place in an alleyway at the Microtel, then said it took place in a dirt parking lot on Old Kings Road, at the Graham Swamp Trailhead, which explains why that entire area had been sealed off at the time of the shooting. In that version of the story, the alleged Black man walked up to Hill’s 2010 Honda and asked for a cigarette, then pointed a gun at Hill. Hill said he grabbed the gun and it went off, striking S.G., his girlfriend. She would be in a coma for weeks afterward.
When detectives arrived, the Black man’s torn jeans, as he’d described them in the 911 call, had turned to all-black clothing. The gun was black, compact, and the assailant demanded money, not weed. That’s when Hill reached for the gun, the gun went off, hitting S.G. The bullet “traveled through the occipital region” of the victim’s head, according to court papers. Hill “took off like a bat out of hell,” in his words. He explained the delay: not knowing the area, he drove north on Old Kings Road to Palm Coast Parkway, then to I-95 Southbound, eventually getting off at the State Road 100 exit. S.G. was stabilized and transported to another hospital.
Detectives took Hill to an interview room at the county courthouse, where the story changed yet again. The assailant was wanting to steal his gun. By then detectives had established a timeline of Hill’s movements thanks to traffic cameras, license plate readers and private business surveillance cameras. His itinerary did not match the tape’s. They also found videos of his interactions with the victim where he threatened her.
Detectives secured a search warrant for his car. They found a box of WPA Military Classic .380 ammunition, three .380 caliber cartridges/casings, two black gun holsters, and one burnt cigarette. Thanks to video surveillance, the traced Hill’s travels to the Publix shopping center at Belle Terre Parkway and Palm Coast Parkway, where he’d parked in front of one of the business, walked behind it, walked back and taken off. S.G. was in the car the whole time, bleeding. Detectives found the silver gun, Browning BDA-380 semi-automatic pistol, wrapped in a bloody towel, in the bushes behind the building. All the evidence went to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement crime lab. So was a DNA sample from Hill, obtained also following a search warrant.
The FDLE lab report concludes that the .380 cartridges were fired from the recovered Browning. And Hill’s DNA was on the towel. An analysis of Hill’s phone also revealed a video recorded the day before the shooting, showing Hill with an identical gun.
On April 15, several detectives–the lead was Sarah Scalia–again interviewed Hill at the county jail, where he’d been booked in on unrelated drug charges within hours of the shooting by which time detectives knew he was their chief and possibly only suspect.
His story changed again. “This horrible fucking accident happened” and “You know, fuck it, I don’t care. I’m not holding this shit in no more,” he told the detectives. “This is a proffer, straight up.” A proffer is typically a term heard in court, legal terminology for offering up evidence for the record.
He said he and S.G. were arguing in the car. She was late for work. He was intending to meet someone to sell him the gun. “It was a horrible fucking accident,” he told the detectives, according to his arrest report. “It was a stupid fucking piece of shit gun, bro.” He claimed he didn’t want to sell a loaded gun, so he took the weapon out of his waistband and “hit the decocker.”
“It fired,” Hill said. “That’s what the fuck happened.”
“I didn’t have my finger on the trigger, what-so-fucking-ever. That’s why I was freaking out. I couldn’t understand it,” he said. The gun had a safety and “a decocker” button on the left side. “I hit it” Hill said, and it “said pow.”
Hill said he “freaked the fuck out” and “prayed it didn’t hit her.”
Had he ever threatened to kill S.G., a detective asked him. “I don’t think I ever did … shit like that,” he said. S.G. was apparently recording him on her phone during their arguments and sending the videos to other people. He did not care.
When a detective asked him to reconstruct the scene, Hill said he was uncomfortable with the idea and asked for a lawyer. The interview ended and detention deputies took him back to his cell.
If it isn’t Lewis who prosecutes Hill–assuming he doesn’t plead out–it’ll be Assistant State Prosecutor Melissa Clark. It was Clark who, on Monday, filed a motion in court arguing against any bond until the end of the case. Circuit Judge Terence Perkins hears that motion’s arguments on July 9.