Crime & Courts

SC man charged with beating wife to death pleads guilty to lesser crime, records show

A Newberry man who was charged with murder in his wife’s death pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter, according to court records.

Curtis Brian Varner faced life in prison, but he was sentenced to more than a decade after Varner and his defense accepted a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter in exchange for a guilty plea, court records show.

On July 8, 2018, Newberry Police Department officers were called to check on Varner’s wife at the time, 63-year-old Cathy Varner, after relations reported that they were concern for her welfare, a statement from the Newberry coroner’s office said. When the police showed up to the Varners’ home, they found Cathy Varner unresponsive.

She died from multiple blunt force injuries as a result of being beaten, according to Coroner Laura Kneece and an autopsy report. Police charged the victim’s husband with murder the next day. Police booked him at Newberry County Detention Center, where he was jailed for more than a year as court hearings proceeded. The 8th Circuit Solicitors Office prosecuted the case against Varner.

On Aug. 23, 8th circuit prosecutors finalized the manslaughter plea for Varner, according to records.

Judge Frank Addy Jr. punished Varner, 58, with less than half of the maximum sentence for manslaughter, sentencing him to 12 years imprisonment with credit for the near 14 months he spent in county jail after police charged him, records show.

South Carolina law allows judges to send people to prison for 30 years on a charge of manslaughter.

The South Carolina Code of Law defines manslaughter as “the unlawful killing of another without malice” and murder as “the killing of any person with malice aforethought.”

“Based on all of the unique facts and circumstances in this case, as well as other problematic evidentiary issues, a jury returning with a not guilty verdict (on a murder charge) was a strong possibility,” 8th Circuit Solicitor David Stumbo said. “My prosecutors along with our law enforcement partners preferred this result to the defendant walking out of the courtroom a free man. I am fully confident that this case was resolved in an appropriate manner to achieve some measure of justice for the victim, and my office commits to continue battling the scourge of domestic violence in our community.”

Varner’s defense did not respond to messages by The State before publication.

While Varner had no previous domestic violence charges, Newberry Police Chief Roy McClurkin said that officers had been called to the Varners’ home in the past for disturbances, The Newberry Observer reported.

Varner served 90 days imprisonment and two years probation in 1993 for a charge that’s unidentified by court records. In 1997, he pleaded guilty to indecent exposure, and a judge sentenced Varner to register as a sex offender as well as a year probation, according to records. He served 30 days in jail for receiving stolen goods in 2011.

David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.