Crime & Courts

SC man found guilty of killing his girlfriend, a mother of 5, and burning her body

A Lower Richland man who beat, strangled, shot and burned the body of his girlfriend, a mother of five, has been sentenced to life in prison.

A jury found Kenneth Gleaton guilty of the killing of 39-year-old Amanda Peele, after a 5-day trial that started Monday.

At a hearing after the jury’s verdict, Judge Casey Manning sentenced Gleaton.

Lead prosecutor Vance Eaton of the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office told the jury that Gleaton’s actions were filled with “brutality” and “cowardice” and that he lashed out at an “imbalance” in his relationship to Peele.

“As she was finding that strength of spirit to leave (the relationship), he became weak and in response all he had was his physical power over her and his rage,” Eaton said.

A pattern of abuse

Gleaton’s imprisonment comes two years after firefighters and police found Peele’s body in the smoldering debris of her home.

About a month before her death, Gleaton had attacked her in a domestic violence incident, Eaton said. A roommate knew about Gleaton’s actions, and Peele’s teenage son saw his mother’s injuries.

Her children were taken from her by the Department of Social Services because of the violent incident, Eaton said. She was working on safely ending her relationship with Gleaton and trying to get her children back.

In the early morning of Oct. 10, 2017, fire crews fought a blaze on the 100 block of Crestmore Drive off Leesburg Road in Lower Richland. Firefighters found Peele’s body in the debris.

Richland County Coroner Gary Watts ruled her death a homicide after an autopsy revealed she died before the fire. She had been bludgeoned, strangled and shot twice in the torso, according to Eaton and Watts.

Richland County Sheriff’s Department deputies began investigating and got their first break when a witness showed up at the burnt home and told authorities that he had seen Peele in her last moments and saw Gleaton standing over her, Eaton said.

‘You got what you need’

The witness had done odd jobs around the house for Peele and was a friend to Gleaton. On the day she was killed, the witness, identified only as “Mike” by prosecutors, was in the house playing video games with headphones on, according to the prosecution.

Mike realized that a couple of the shots he heard weren’t from the game he was playing. He went into the bedroom of the house and found Gleaton over Peele’s body, her blood on the floor and a belt around her neck, he testified in court.

Gleaton fled the scene after burning the house, according to prosecution. He went to friend’s house. The friend had found out that Gleaton was wanted and when he showed up, the friend recorded their conversation. Gleaton said during that talk that he hit Peele and burned the house, Eaton said.

After leaving the friend’s house, Gleaton went to a walking trail that borders the Congaree River behind EdVenture children’s museum in Columbia, Eaton said.

Police arrested him there.

During an interrogation, police played the recorded phone conversation between Gleaton and his friend. After hearing the recording, “He (Gleaton) basically says, ‘You got what you need’” to police, Eaton said.

Relief

The gun that Peele was shot with was never found. But witnesses testified that they’d seen Gleaton carrying a .25 caliber pistol in the past.

When the autopsy was done, a .25 caliber bullet was pulled from Peele’s body, according to prosecution.

Gleaton’s hands were never tested for particles that are found after a gun is shot because too much time had passed between when Peele was shot and Gleaton’s arrest.

Mike’s hands were tested, though. The Richland County Public Defender’s Office tried to argue that Mike could have killed Peele. But gunshot residue test results didn’t find definitively that Mike had shot a gun.

“I said all along that he had no motive to kill,” Eaton said.

Defense attorneys also brought in an expert to argue that the recorded conversation sent to police could have been altered or manipulated because of the way it was sent.

But that did not stick with the jury. On Friday about 8:30 p.m., jurors came back with their guilty verdicts for murder, arson and desecration of human remains, because it was proven that Peele died before Gleaton burned the home “to try to cover it up,” Eaton said.

Gleaton was also found guilty of weapon possession by a person convicted of a violent crime. He had been convicted of arson in 1996, first-degree domestic violence in 1998 and aggravated domestic violence in 2000, according to records.

Judge Manning sentenced Gleaton to the maximum time in prison for each offense — life in prison for murder, 20 years for 2nd degree arson, 10 years for human remains desecration and 5 years for the weapon possession charge.

After the trial, Peele’s family members, who had been in court almost every day, cried and felt a sense of relief about the outcome, Eaton said.

Peele’s death illuminates the high rate of domestic violence and men who kill women in South Carolina. The state is consistently in the top 10 for the percentage of women killed by men.

Peele was named in 2018 as part of an annual ceremony on The Statehouse grounds that remembers and honors people killed by domestic violence.

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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.
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