MAN SENTENCED TO 40 YEARS FOR DEATH OF CHILD AND INJURY TO HER SISTER

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.”

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TROTTER SENTENCED TO 15 YEAR IN PRISON

February 28, 2019

Walhalla, SC—Yesterday, an Oconee County jury found Michael Lee Trotter guilty on all counts following a one-day trial. The State was represented by Assistant Solicitor Jason Alderman. The Honorable Scott Sprouse sentenced Trotter to 5 years for Possession of Tools Capable of Being Used in a Crime; 10 years for Grand Larceny (enhanced due to prior convictions); 10 years for Petit Larceny (also enhanced); and 15 years for Burglary 2nd Degree, Violent, with all sentences to be served concurrently. Although the defendant told the judge that he had been a drug addict his entire adult life, the Judge remarked that he fashioned the sentence to punish him but to allow him to have a life after prison, if he chose to. 

On or between November 27th and 28th of 2017, two trailers were taken from a location on Shiloh Road. Officers responding to the scene spoke to the victim who gave a description of the two trailers and showed the officers the scene of the theft and where the chain used to secure the trailers had been cut. While at the scene of the trailer theft, the officers received a call of shots fired at another location, later found to be the home of the defendant. During the investigation of this incident, a witness stated that he had seen trailers being pulled on to vacant property next door to the defendant’s home. Trotter was found on that property shortly thereafter, although the property was clearly marked with “No Trespassing” signs. The stolen trailers were also located there as well as tools used to cut the locks on the property adjacent to the defendant’s home and also cut the chain securing the trailers at the original incident location. Trotter was taken into custody for trespassing. Warrants were later served for the other charges. 

Following the sentencing, Solicitor David Wagner stated, “Michael Trotter has been in and out of prison for many years because of drugs and multiple burglaries. I appreciate the fact that he was sentenced to the maximum on each of these charges due to his long criminal history and want to thank the jurors, the Judge and law enforcement for helping to make our community a safer place.”

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OSBORNE PLEADS GUILTY IN TOWNVILLE ELEMENTARY SHOOTING

December 12, 2018

(Anderson, SC). Earlier today at the Anderson County Courthouse Jesse
Dewitt Osborne pled guilty to two counts of Murder and three counts of
Attempted Murder before Judge Lawton McIntosh for killing his father and going on a shooting spree at Townville Elementary School on September 28, 2016, where he killed first grader Jacob Hall and injured two other first grade students and a teacher. Osborne’s sentencing will take place after a hearing later this spring.


A hearing prior to sentencing Osborne is required due to the State seeking a sentence of Life without Parole for the crimes committed by Osborne since he was under 17 years old at the time he committed these offenses. The Supreme Court of the United States held in Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), that the Eighth Amendment prohibits a sentencing scheme that mandates a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders without affording the Court the opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances of youth. This means that before a life without parole sentence is imposed upon a juvenile offender, he must receive an individualized hearing where the mitigating qualities of youth are fully considered, including:


(1) the chronological age of the offender and the “hallmark features of
youth”, including immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate the risks and consequence of conduct;


(2) the family and home life/environment of the offender;


(3) the circumstances of the homicide offense, including the offender’s
participation or role and how “familial and peer pressures” may have
affected him;


(4) the “incompetencies associated with youth,” such as the offender’s
inability to deal with police officers or prosecutors or assist his own
attorneys; and 

(5) the possibility of rehabilitation.


The South Carolina Supreme Court extended the Miller holding in Aiken v. Byars, 410 S.C. 534, 754 S.E.2d 508 (2014), to cover nonmandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole and also held that this applies retroactively to cases pending on collateral review.


Following the guilty plea entered by Osborne, Solicitor Wagner said: “The State will not be entering into any plea deals with Jesse Osborne. I am seeking the maximum sentence in this case, life without parole, which is the appropriate sentence for the murder of six-year-old Jacob Hall, and the attempted murders of his classmates and teachers.”


The minimum sentence Osborne now faces is 30 years, with the maximum, which is being sought by Solicitor David R. Wagner of the Tenth Judicial Circuit, being life without the possibility of parole.

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MAN LOSES EYE IN VIOLENT DOMESTIC RELATED ATTACK

On Monday, October 15, 2018, Jonathan Duncan pled guilty before the Honorable R. Scott Sprouse to Attempted Murder, Domestic Violence 2nd Degree, and Possession of a Weapon During a Violent Crime. Judge Sprouse imposed a sentence of 27 years. Mr. Duncan will not be eligible for parole. 

Duncan’s charges stemmed from a brutal attack on his wife Margaret Duncan and a mutual acquaintance, Justin Stasney, on June 6, 2016. The parties were spending time together when Duncan became enraged with his wife and believed she was going to leave him for Mr. Stasney. He struck her multiple times and began to choke her. At this point, Mr. Stasney stepped in to aid in Ms. Duncan’s defense. The Defendant subsequently attacked Mr. Stasney and he suffered near fatal knife wounds to his hands, back, and neck. Mr. Stasney was also stabbed in the face and, ultimately, lost one eye. 

          “Special thanks for the hard work of the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office in this case. Their quick response to the scene of this crime very likely saved the life of Mr. Stasney” stated Solicitor David Wagner.   “The month of October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Judge Sprouse’s sentence sends a strong message that domestic related, violent incidents such as this will not be tolerated in our community.”

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DARRELL BLACKWELL CONVICTED OF ARMED ROBBERY; SENTENCED TO 18 YEARS

Anderson, SC—It took an Anderson County jury less than 10 minutes to convict Darrell Blackwell of the Armed Robbery that occurred at the Shop Rite store at 714 Sayre Street on January 9, 2016. The entire incident was captured on the store’s video surveillance and clearly showed Blackwell armed with both a knife and what appeared to be a gun when he entered and then robbed the store of money, cigarettes, and other various items. Two clerks were working at the time, but fortunately, no one was physically harmed. The defendant was apprehended several days later after an investigation by the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office.

“The Anderson County Sheriff’s Office did a great job tracking this armed robber down and we appreciate all their hard work.” Solicitor David Wagner.

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CAWTHON SENTENCED TO 45 YEARS FOR MURDERING WIFE

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.”

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ARMED ROBBER CONVICTED IN TRIAL SENTENCED TO 15 YEARS

ANDERSON, SC–After a three day trial, an Anderson County jury has convicted Damorius Gaines of Armed Robbery, Attempted Armed Robbery, 2 counts of Possession of a Weapon during the Commission of a Violent Crime, and Unlawful Possession of a Pistol. The Honorable Cordell Maddox, Jr., sentenced Gaines to 20 years provided upon the service of 15 years, with the balanced suspended to 5 years of probation. Gaines will have to serve at least 85% of this sentence before he is eligible for parole. 

On February 16, 2017, at around 7:40 pm, Damorius Gaines attempted to gain entry into the Little General located at 1001 S. Murray Avenue. He was masked and armed with a handgun. Fortunately, store employees had just locked the doors and he was unable to complete the robbery. About 20 minutes later on the same night, Gaines, again masked and armed with a handgun, entered the Dollar Tree located at 910 S. Main Street, where he held a cashier at gunpoint and forced her to give him money from her register. Both of these incidents were captured on surveillance videos. If not for the fact that Gaines lifted his mask to reveal a brief glimpse of his face after failing to gain entry into the Little General, coupled with an informant tip, Gaines may never have been apprehended.   

“We will not allow people like Mr. Gaines to terrorize or even attempt to prey upon Anderson County businesses and their hard working employees. Our community is safer tonight with Mr. Gaines behind bars. I want to thank the Anderson Police Department for their hard work investigating these crimes and for working with my office to secure these convictions,” said Solicitor David Wagner following the verdict.

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JURY FINDS GAMBRELL GUILTY IN CAMERON KILLING, GETS MAXIMUM SENTENCE

ANDERSON, SC–This week an Anderson County jury found James Milton Gambrell guilty of Solicitation to Commit Armed Robbery. The Honorable R. Scott Sprouse sentenced Gambrell the maximum sentence of 10 years in jail. His Co-defendant Woodrow Curry pled guilty to Voluntary Manslaughter in August of 2017 and testified for the State in Gambrell’s trial. Following his testimony this week, Curry was sentenced to 28 years in jail.   A third Co-defendant, Jason Carver, was found guilty of Murder in August of 2017 and is currently serving a 30 year sentence. Curry had testified against Carver in his trial as well. 

On the evening of March 28, 2016, Jason Franklin Carver and Woodrow Curry were sent by James Milton Gambrell to a home in Powdersville to collect either drugs or money from victim Steven Cameron. Carver drove Gambrell’s white Buick Regal to the victim’s home with Curry in the passenger’s seat. When they arrived, the men were on the porch when an altercation ensued. During that altercation, Curry pulled a .25 caliber gun and shot Cameron twice in the chest. Cameron died almost instantly from his injuries. Carver and Curry were each charged with Murder. Gambrell was charged with Accessory Before the Fact and Solicitation of Armed Robbery. 

Solicitor David Wagner made the following statement following the sentencing this week:

         “All three of the men involved in this killing have decades to consider their actions in jail. Law enforcement did a fantastic job investigating this crime and working with my Office to secure these convictions. I hope these strong sentences give some closure to Mr. Cameron’s family today.”

 

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TAYLOR BRIGHT SENTENCED TO 12 YEARS FOR RECKLESS HOMICIDE AND CHILD NEGLECT

Walhalla, SC —  Taylor Louise Bright appeared before the Honorable Scott Sprouse today in Oconee County pleading guilty in the death of her husband, John Taylor Bright in Seneca, SC in January of this year. The defendant, represented by Larry Brandt, pled guilty to Reckless Homicide and Unlawful Neglect of a Child. The State was represented by Asst. Solicitor Brian Livingston.  Judge Sprouse sentenced the Defendant to 10 years in prison for Reckless Homicide.  He also imposed a consecutive sentence of 10 years suspended on the service of 2 years and 5 years probation for Unlawful Neglect of a Child. 

On January 18, 2018, following a disagreement, Taylor Bright hit her husband with a Dodge Ram 3500 pickup truck and dragged him approximately 1600 feet under the truck through the streets of Seneca. Mr. Bright died as a result of chest and abdominal trauma. Although there had been one report of a domestic problem in 2016 which was determined to be unfounded, there had been no other calls to law enforcement regarding domestic matters between the Brights.  The Defendant and victim’s 4 year old daughter was in the truck during the incident.  Toxicology reports indicated Taylor Bright, who was pregnant at the time, was legally intoxicated and she also admitted using marijuana.

Solicitor David Wagner stated after the plea, “I applaud the outstanding work of the Seneca Police Department that helped secure a guilty plea in this case.  This case is a senseless tragedy that has forever impacted the lives of two families.  Taylor Bright’s toxic combination of anger, alcohol and motor vehicles has left two children to grow up without either parent.”

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BANK ROBBER SENT TO PRISON

John David Cowan, Jr.Anderson, SC — Earlier today in the Court of General Sessions in Anderson County, the Honorable Cordell Maddox, Jr. sentenced John David Cowans, Jr., to 17 years provided upon the service of 11 years, with the balance suspended to 5 years’ probation for Entering a Bank with Intent to Steal, more commonly known as Bank Robbery. 

On January 10, 2018, Cowans entered the TD Bank at 2808 S. Main Street in Anderson where he told the cashier he was robbing the bank and demanded bills in $100 dollar denominations.  Although it was later discovered that the defendant was unarmed, he got away with $1600 in cash.  The entire incident was captured on video surveillance, and Mr. Cowans later confessed after turning himself in to the Authorities. 

“The Tenth Circuit Solicitor’s Office has secured multiple convictions this week in both Anderson and Oconee Counties for Armed Robberies and Attempted Armed Robberies, but Bank Robbery is covered under its own separate statute under South Carolina Law”, said Solicitor David Wagner following Mr. Cowans’ sentencing.  “Sentences like this one will act as deterrents which will protect the business owners, banks, and citizens of Anderson and Oconee counties.”

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