Walhalla, SC–On Friday, March 1, 2019, Matthew Jason Chappell pled guilty before the Honorable R. Scott Sprouse to Great Bodily Injury to a Child and no contest to Voluntary Manslaughter. Judge Sprouse imposed a total sentence of 40 years. Mr. Chappell will not be eligible for parole.
On November 21, 2017, the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office responded to the Matthew Chappell’s residence upon report of a three-year-old child that had been injured. At the time of injury, the child was alone in the home with Mr. Chappell. The child suffered bi-lateral skull fractures that were ruled by medical professionals to be non-accidental in nature. When questioned by law enforcement, Chappell asserted that he had been playing with the child when he pushed her and she fell backwards, hitting her head, rendering her unconscious. Mr. Chappell waited a significant period of time and attempted to clean up evidence of blood in the home before seeking aid for the child.
Upon further investigation, the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office discovered that the injured child’s sister, 22-month-old Gwynne Hess, had died in the very same home on June 9, 2017. At the time, her death had been ruled accidental in nature. The investigation into Gwynne Hess’ death was re-opened. It was discovered, again, that Gwynne was alone in the home with Mr. Chappell at the time of her alleged accidental choking. Upon further questioning, Mr. Chappell confessed that he had picked up Gwynne and dropped her on the floor causing her to choke. Based on this information, the decision was made to exhume the remains of Gwynne Hess for autopsy. The medical examiner found massive fractures to the side and back of Gwynne’s head. He further opined that the amount of force to cause these injuries to Gwynne’s skull would be the equivalent of falling off a three-story building.
“Special thanks for the hard work of Sergeant Tim Rice of the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office. Sergeant Rice’s diligence during his investigation of the surviving child’s injuries ultimately uncovered that Gwynne Hess’ death was not an accident and ensured Mr. Chappell would be held accountable for all of his actions.” stated Solicitor David Wagner. “Judge Sprouse’s sentence ensures Matthew Chappell will serve a large part, if not the entirety, of the rest of his life in prison.”