A Columbia man has been charged with beating a 76-year-old woman to death after police say he left fingerprints at the scene.
James Heyward, 42, was charged with murder, burglary and two counts of kidnapping, according to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department.
Deputies responded Sunday evening to a home invasion on Edgewater Drive in Columbia and found resident Alice Tollison unresponsive on the kitchen floor, according to the sheriff’s department. EMS responded and pronounced Tollison dead at the scene. Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said she was strangled.
During the burglary, Heyward tied up Tollison’s 8-year-old granddaughter, but she managed to get to a cellphone and call 911, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said. Responders found the girl at the home and transported her to Palmetto Health Richland for observation.
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Heyward ransacked the home for jewelry then fled the area, according to RCSD.
The suspect and his wife were renting a room from an acquaintance of the victim, and Heyward met Tollison while setting up tables at an event she attended, according to RCSD. Officers arrested him Tuesday morning at that residence on Crestbrook Road.
Lott said the Heyward is a career criminal who has no regard for the law. His previous charges include possession of a weapon, drug-related charges, stealing and strong-armed robbery, and he had been released from the state of New Jersey Department of Corrections on June 10 where he was serving time for robbery.
Tollison was a member of H.O.P.E., or Helping Our Precious Elderly – an RCSD program aimed at helping elderly residents around Richland County. Program Capt. Bill Brown said the HOPE team was hit hard by Tollison’s death.
“(She was) a very sweet lady with a sweet spirit,” Brown said. “A lot of times we (thought) we were going over to check on her, but looking back on it, very easily you can see that oftentimes she was checking on us. She was always there to do something for somebody else.”
The H.O.P.E. program serves more than 600 county residents and is coordinated by retired law enforcement members, according to the RCSD website. H.O.P.E. coordinators call and visit residents each month, and project volunteers make weekly calls to residents.