Five men have been charged in connection with the murder of a University of South Carolina student. The 22-year-old Columbia man was shot and killed on March 26 in his off-campus residence. The arrests, which were announced by the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office on Nov. 22, were the result of an investigation that lasted eight months. Four of the men have been charged with murder and armed robbery. The fifth man, who police believe fired the fatal shot, has been charged with murder and possessing a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.

An SCSO representative said that investigators made a breakthrough when they studied cellphone records that allegedly revealed the five men conspired to visit the student at a Spartanburg apartment complex to rob him at gunpoint. The records are said to reveal that all of the men knew about the scheme and were in favor of it. Several of the men have confessed to participating in the armed robbery according to the SCSO.

One of the men, who police determined was the group’s getaway driver, was initially charged as an accessory, but the charges were upgraded after investigators learned that he knew what transpired in the apartment and discussed it with others. Homicide charges in South Carolina usually carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, but prosecutors might seek the death penalty in this case because the murder was allegedly committed during the commission of an armed robbery.

Experienced criminal defense attorneys would likely advise individuals accused of committing violent crimes to remain silent until they have spoken with a lawyer no matter how dire their situations may appear to be. Police officers may imply that confessing to crimes like murder or attempted murder will lead to more lenient treatment, but they do not have the authority to reduce charges or penalties. Prosecutors do have this authority, and defense attorneys may find it easier to encourage prosecutors to negotiate when their clients have not already confessed.