Walhalla, SC—The Honorable Lawton McIntosh sentenced Lee Mikeal Cawthon to 40 years in prison today for the Murder of his wife Rebecca plus 5 years consecutive for the Possession of a Weapon during the Commission of a Violent Crime.
After divorcing his first wife, Lee Cawthon married Rebecca when she was 17 years old. Lee and Rebecca Cawthon shared an unconventional open marriage in which they invited one or more sexual partners to join them in their relationship.
Rebecca and Lee were virtually inseparable throughout the course of their marriage. They often chose occupations where they could work together to minimize their time apart. Around the time of Rebecca’s death she had begun a new job and was gaining her independence. The Cawthon’s marriage also became strained during this time as they had invited a male partner into their relationship for the first time.
On Easter Sunday of 2017, the Cawthon’s returned home after consuming alcohol with their male partner. An argument ensued and the defendant assaulted Rebecca Cawthon. She subsequently sought treatment at Oconee Memorial Hospital, telling a medical professional she had fallen down the stairs. After being released she sent photos of her injuries to friends. She sought comfort from the male companion that she and her husband had shared. On April 17th, Rebecca returned home to collect her belongings and tell the defendant she wanted a divorce. He became enraged at the thought of losing her and shot her multiple times. After ensuring that the victim was deceased, Lee Cawthon placed coins on Rebecca’s eyes “for the boatman”, referring to a death ritual from Greek mythology wherein coins are placed on the eyes of the dead to ensure the passage over the River Styx, which divides the living and the dead.
After cleaning the crime scene, the defendant fled to Clayton, Georgia but subsequently returned. During this time, he was using the victim’s phone to send text messages to the victim’s relatives to cover up her disappearance. Upon return to Oconee County, Cawthon placed the victim’s body in a 55-gallon oil drum and stored the drum in a grease pit under a tractor. He then traveled to Oklahoma to visit an individual named Hamster who they had met in the online game, World of Warcraft. The defendant again returned to Oconee County. At this point the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office was investigating Rebecca’s disappearance as a missing person’s case. On May 3rd, 2017, the defendant came to the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office and confessed to murdering his wife. He directed investigators that the victim’s decomposed body could be found on their property in the oil barrel and told them they could find the murder weapon in his vehicle.
“We need to thank the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office for their outstanding work in this case,” stated Solicitor David Wagner following Cawthon’s sentencing. “Rebecca Cawthon was a victim of domestic violence who was attempting to free herself from the situation and start a new life. Lee Cawthon stole that opportunity from her. Today’s sentence effectively ensures that Lee Cawthon will never have the opportunity to walk as a free man.”