A Richland County jury deliberated just 80 minutes late Friday afternoon before finding a 29-year-old man guilty of the execution-style slayings of two men in 2012 in a Garners Ferry Road apartment.
Circuit Judge Robert Hood immediately sentenced William “Bumbee” Wallace, a lanky ex-convict who already had served time in prison for voluntary manslaughter, to three consecutive terms of life in prison without parole. That ensures he will never be released.
Wallace, a reputed Bloods gang member, had been out of prison just 58 days before shooting Athell Johnson, 25, and Jamall Pratt, 22, at close range in the head with a 9mm pistol while they were both trussed hand and foot with garbage bags, the jury found. At the time, Wallace and an accomplice were robbing Johnson, a drug dealer who was paralyzed from the waist down and had to use a wheelchair, of his cash.
The jury also found Wallace guilty of attempted murder and the kidnapping of Johnson’s girlfriend, Raquel Weston, then 22. Wallace told Johnson to call Weston, who kept Johnson’s money for him and get her to bring money to the apartment. She brought $10,000 in cash and managed to survive after being shot and left for dead in a wooded area in Lower Richland, testimony showed.
Hood said that under state law, he had no choice but to sentence Wallace to life without parole since Wallace had prior convictions for violent crimes. Besides voluntary manslaughter, Wallace also had a conviction for assault and battery with intent to kill.
The guilty verdicts at the Richland County courthouse from the jury of six men and six women came on the fifth day of a trial marked by the prosecution’s compelling scientific evidence and eyewitness testimony to the killings and circumstances surrounding them. In all, the prosecution put up more than 20 witnesses.
Wallace is an associate of the Bloods street gang and in May, while incarcerated, helped other gang members beat up another inmate at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, according to law enforcement documents obtained by The State. Neither that alleged crime, nor his prior convictions, were introduced at his murder trial.
In an argument to the jury Friday, 5th Circuit assistant solicitor April Sampson said that in robbing and killing Johnson and Pratt, Wallace had set out to commit “the perfect crime.”
But Wallace’s efforts were undone by his own mistakes, chance and good detective work by Richland County Sheriff’s Department investigators, she said.
On Friday, after the prosecution rested, Hood gave Wallace a chance to testify. He declined.
Wallace’s three-person defense team of Kris Hines, Lucas Hawks and Stephen Krzyston, lawyers from the 5th Circuit Public Defender’s office, put up no other witnesses.
The case shone a spotlight on the array of high-tech crime detection tools the Richland County Sheriff’s Department – one of the state’s largest – is able to bring quickly to a case.
Hours after Wallace shot and killed Johnson and Pratt and left them in Johnson’s apartment, county investigators – using sophisticated cellphone location techniques – swooped down on him at the intersection of Bush River Road and Interstate 26 and arrested him, sheriff’s investigator Scott McDonald testified Friday.
Investigators were able to focus on Wallace so quickly not only because Weston survived being shot and left for dead, but because a passerby in a truck found her as she stumbled onto the roadside. The passerby, his late teens or early 20s, drove Weston to a county deputy and EMS within minutes.
Weston, who knew Wallace because he was a friend of Johnson’s, quickly identified him. From there, Richland County sheriff’s Capt. Scott McDonald, an expert on how to use cellphone data, contacted SLED, which has access to a vast array of databases containing telephone numbers. Wallace’s cell number was in one of those databases.
Knowing Wallace’s cellphone number, McDonald was then able to use the “pings” that the phone was making as it bounced off cell towers to locate him.
Other technology that linked Wallace to the crime included forensic gun analysis that linked bullets found in Johnson’s and Pratt’s heads to a cheap 9mm High Point pistol that evidence showed belonged to Wallace. Moreover, detectives used tape recordings of calls made by Wallace from the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center once he was being held for the crime to get further crucial leads, McDonald testified. He was the prosecution’s final witness.
Weston, who testified Thursday, gave a crucial eyewitness account of the shootings and her ordeal. Wallace’s accomplice, DeAndre Diggs, who works at the West Columbia chicken plant, wasn’t taken into custody until five days after the shootings. But as soon as he was arrested, he confessed, his story jibing with Weston’s, according to testimony.
Diggs testified at length on Wednesday as a prosecution witness. His case has not yet been disposed of yet, and he and his attorney, Debbie Barbier, are angling for a reduced sentence because of his cooperation.
In his testimony, Diggs admitted to riding with Wallace as they drove Weston to the wooded area. He then said he shot her three times, telling the jury he did it at Wallace’s urging.
Sampson, who led a prosecution team that included assistant prosecutors Daniel Coble and Vance Eaton, also played recordings of a phone call Wallace made from jail just after he was arrested, urging the person he was talking to “to take care of Weston,” meaning to kill her so she couldn’t testify against him.
Although the double murders qualified as a death penalty case, 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson did not seek the death penalty.
“The good guys won this case, and Wallace will die in prison – that’s the bottom line,” Johnson said after the verdict. He declined to give specifics about why he didn’t seek the death penalty.
Death penalty trials are far longer and more expensive than normal murder trials, and Richland County juries are known for rarely recommending a judge give a death sentence. Johnson is currently seeking the death penalty in a Kershaw County case involving murder, kidnapping and rape.
Sheriff Leon Lott, reached later Friday, described Wallace as “a cold-blooded killer who never would have stopped. He’s a good example of what happens when you are involved in a gang – you wind up dead or in prison.”
Just before sentencing Wallace, Hood asked if the victims’ families wanted to comment.
Johnson’s mother, Myrna Fields, wiping tears away, told Hood, “I’m still grieving over my son. My son was a father; he would have celebrated his 27th birthday on Sunday. Please don’t give Mr. Wallace the opportunity ever to take another person’s life. No one deserves to be killed like my son was killed.”