A state circuit judge on Monday sentenced a 22-year-old Lugoff man to 50 years in prison after the man pleaded guilty to murder and rape in the 2014 stranglulation death of a young Elgin woman.
Appearing Monday morning before state Circuit Judge Casey Manning, defendant Stephen Ross Kelly decided to avoid a trial, an almost certain jury guilty verdict and a life without parole sentence and pleaded guilty to killing and raping 18-year-old Briana Rabon in February 2014.
Trial had been scheduled to being Monday, but Kelly’s attorney, Bob Cook, told the judge that his client wanted to plead guilty. Besides murder and criminal sexual conduct, Kelly also pleaded guilty to kidnapping and an unrelated charge of criminal domestic violence.
“Kelly would have killed again,” Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews said after the three-hour hearing. Matthews’ investigators, with help from the State Law Enforcement Divsion, arrested Kelly three days after Rabon’s body was found in late February 2014 in a power line right-of-way clearing in woods near the Haig’s Creek subdivision in Elgin. Children playing in the area found the body.
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“She had been brutally murdered,” Matthews said. “This guy had anger issues against women. He beat his girlfriend, and he beat Briana mercilessly before raping her.”
An autopsy determined Rabon died after being strangled, according to county Coroner Johnny Fellers.
Three veteran prosecutors from the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s office – Luck Campbell, Joanna McDuffie and Meghan Walker – were on hand and ready for trial when Kelly decided to plead guilty.
After Rabon’s slaying , Kershaw investigators sifted through numerous leads and quickly settled on Kelly. Crucial evidence came from a SLED forensic investigation of Kelly’s car, a dark-blue Chevrolet Impala, that linked him to the crime scene.
Kelly has a prior criminal record. Several months before killing Rabon, he had been released from jail on probation after serving a little over four months for receiving stolen goods.
And weeks before his arrest in the Rabon case, Kelly was arrested for first-offense criminal domestic violence. “He beat his girlfriend,” Matthews said in an interview last year.
At the time of Rabon’s death, she was working as a hostess atthe Tilted Kilt, a Richland County pub.
Nearly 1,000 people attended her funeral in early March of last year, held at a rural Baptist church in Fairfield County.
Matthews, who attended Monday’s hearing, said Kelly will have to serve all of his 50-year sentence.
Relatives of both Rabon and Kelly were on hand for Monday’s hearing.