COLUMBIA, SC — Circuit Court Judge Robert Hood accepted a plea agreement that will put Freddie Grant in prison for 30 years for the killing of Northeast Richland teen Gabrielle Swainson.
Hood said Wednesday in court he struggled with whether he should accept the agreement but said it was necessary to bring closure.
I will go along with these negotiations because I need for Gabbiees family to have closure, Hood said. I need for them to know and I need our community to know we will not tolerate this type of behavior.
Grant had nothing to say when offered a chance to speak in court.
Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson presented the case and spoke on behalf of Gabbiees parents.
Her entire family loved Gabbiee, Johnson said. She was full of life. She was a good girl, going to do great things, until her life was taken.
Grant agreed to the plea deal in exchange for his daughters release from the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, where she was being held on a charge of being an accessory after the fact to a felony. That charge was dropped the day after her father pointed out Gabrielles grave near railroad tracks off U.S. 1 in Elgin.
Gabrielle was 15 when she disappeared from her mothers home in Northeast Richland in the early morning hours of Aug. 18, 2012. Her disappearance earned national attention and thousands in the Midlands followed the case by attending vigils, volunteering to search and wearing blue bracelets as a sign of hope that she would be found alive.
People followed the search for the missing girl, who was known to have good grades and for her devout religious beliefs. She played guitar and sang, often performing in church. She had been chosen for the Ridge View High School junior varsity cheerleading squad.
Grant had become a suspect within hours of her disappearance. He had been dating Gabrielles mother, and Richland County sheriffs investigators quickly learned of his violent criminal history. Their suspicions were affirmed when Gabrielles cell phone showed her last known location to be near Grants Elgin home, a burned out house on a dirt lane. There, investigators found duct tape with the teens hair and blood on it. More duct tape was found in an abandoned junk yard near the house.
Grant refused to cooperate with the investigation even after he was arrested by the FBI agents on a federal ammunition charge. He was convicted and sentenced to 17 years in prison because he was a felon, who was banned from owning weapons and ammo.
But Richland County investigators caught a break in June when Gabrielles cell phone was discovered behind a Myrtle Beach Piggly Wiggly. They were able to place Dominique Grant in the area at the time the phone was discovered.
They charged Dominique Grant and then leveraged her arrest to get her fathers confession. He was flown Aug. 8 from Eastern Kentucky where he was being held in a federal prison to South Carolina where he lead investigators to the grave site.
After her father pleaded guilty, Dominque Grant released this statement thropugh her attorney, Aimee J. Zmroczek: My heart goes out to Elvia for her loss. I could never imagine her heartache and I am devastated by the loss of her only child, Gabbiee. I am equally saddened, shocked, and hurt by my fathers actions. His actions cannot and will not be condoned.
She asserted her innocence in any involvement with her fathers actions.
As to my father, she continued, I must use Christs example of love and mercy to guide my steps. My love for him has not wavered and it is my responsibility as a Christian to show him mercy and compassion. He now has to pay his debt to society and my immediate goal is to allow Gods will to take precedent in my life as I move forward.
A candlelight vigil for Gabrielle will be held at 8:15 tonight at Elgin Town Hall. Another service is planned for 6 p.m. Sunday at Right Direction Church International, 3506 Broad River Road. Ridge View High School, where Gabrielle would have been a sophomore when she was kidnapped, is planning a remembrance once students return.