Crime & Courts

He confessed to killing Gabbiee, a Midlands teen. This week, he made a court appearance

One of South Carolina’s most despised killers — dubbed “every parent’s nightmare” by one cop - surfaced briefly in a Columbia federal courtroom this week, had one of his sentences tweaked and was promptly escorted out of public view by burly U.S. Marshals back to prison.

Currently serving a 30-year state sentence without parole for murdering and kidnapping a Columbia teen in 2012, Freddie Grant, 59, appeared in federal court Tuesday in an effort to reduce his other prison sentence — that one 17 years — which he was given after he was caught, shortly after the teen’s disappearance, with ammunition in his possession. At the time, he was a convicted felon, and federal law bars felons from having guns or ammunition.

On Tuesday, U.S. Judge Cameron McGowan Currie, reduced Grant’s ammunition sentence to 10 years because of a new interpretation of punishment rules that were in effect in 2013, when Grant was tried and convicted on that charge. Grant is serving his state and federal sentences simultaneously. The longer 30-year sentence, for murder and kidnapping convictions, remains unchanged.

“The bottom line is Freddie Grant will still serve his state prison sentence until 2043,” said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, one of a few spectators in the courtroom. “That hasn’t changed.”

In 2012, Grant committed one of the worst crimes Lott says he’s seen in his 45-plus year career in law enforcement — he snatched beloved high school sophomore, Gabrielle “Gabbiee” Swainson, from her mother’s house near Village at Sandhill mall one night and subsequently murdered and buried her in the Kershaw County woods.

Gabbiee, 15, was an exceptional teen. A student in the honor bioscience program at Ridge View High, she sang and played guitar, performing at Right Direction Church International, where she was a faithful member along with her mother. She was a straight-A student that teachers described as an “academic prodigy” — mentoring other students and excelling in math, English and Latin. She had been chosen for Ridge View’s junior varsity cheerleader squad. More than 1,000 people attended her funeral.

Her terrifying disappearance — blood had been found on her bed — made national news, and the FBI joined with Lott’s detectives in the investigation.

Lott’s department and the FBI quickly zeroed in on Grant as a suspect in Gabbiee’s disappearance because he had dated Gabbiee’s mother, and because GPS “pings” on Gabbiee’s cell phone were traced to a location near Grant’s Kershaw County house. Investigators also learned Grant had a string of convictions for violent crimes dating back 30 years.

But her body would not be found for nearly a year.

Grant quickly lawyered up, refusing to speak, and investigators were unable to find irrefutable evidence linking him to the crime.

But investigators who served a search warrant on Grant’s house several days after Gabbiee’s disappearance did find ammunition and arrested him on federal charges of being a felon illegally in possession of ammunition: a box of shotgun shells and a box of .38 caliber pistol rounds.

Grant was arrested on Aug. 25, 2012, a week after Gabbiee disappeared. He has been behind bars ever since.

‘A deal with the devil’

In January, 2013, still stonewalling police about what happened to Gabbiee, Grant was tried in federal court on the possession of ammunition charges and found guilty after a two-day trial.

He was sentenced to 17 years in prison — a stiff sentence allowed because of Grant’s lifelong criminal record. His convictions over the years included kidnapping, weapons violations, domestic violence and drug dealing, among others.

Later in 2013, police arrested Grant’s adult daughter on charges that she allegedly had Gabbiee’s missing cell phone, which had been found in Myrtle Beach.

With his daughter facing prison, Grant relayed the message that he would lead investigators to Gabbiee’s body in Kershaw County if he could be assured that charges against his daughter would be dropped, and he would get no more than 30 years in state prison if he confessed to Gabbiee’s murder and kidnapping.

In August 2013, Grant led investigators to Gabbiee’s gravesite, not far from the house he was living in near Elgin.

The day after Grant revealed where the body was, charges against his daughter were dropped.

Several days later, Grant pleaded guilty to Gabbiee’s murder and kidnapping in state court before Judge Robert Hood, who sentenced him to 30 years.

“It was a deal with the devil,” Lott recalled Tuesday, explaining that Gabbiee’s mother had agreed once it became clear that was the only way to find Gabbiee’s body and bring closure.

Mississippi now, South Carolina later

Grant was to be taken this week to Yazoo City federal prison, a medium security facility in southern Mississippi. He will be in federal custody until 2023, when he will be taken to the S.C. Department of Corrections and finish serving out what remains of his 30-year state sentence. He will be 83 when he gets out.

“We are seven years from Gabbiee being kidnapped and murdered, and I don’t think I’ve seen anything that has touched the community like this and put so much fear in the community,” Lott said after Grant’s resentencing. “He’s a monster, and he will always be a monster. - every parent’s nightmare.”

At Gabbiee’s funeral, speaker after speaker told the crowd that she had as much promise as any child to ever come out of the Midlands.

“No light has ever shined as bright,” one speaker said, “and it will continue to shine.”

During Tuesday’s hearing, Grant stood and sat next to his public defender attorney, Daniel Leonardi. Dressed in a worn orange jail jump suit, he was manacled, hand and foot, with metal chains. His shoulders were slouched and his head was bent the entire time.

Despite Grant’s submissive pose, assistant U.S. Attorney Stacey Haynes, who presented the case to Judge Currie, described him as “extremely dangerous.”

In her statements to the judge, Haynes referred to Adrianna Lassiter, of Elgin, Grant’s former live-in girl friend whose head Grant slammed against a brick wall in 2011. In 2012, Grant was convicted of domestic violence in that case and sentenced to 30 days in jail. After Grant got of jail, Lassiter disappeared.

“She is still missing, your honor,” Haynes told the judge. “She has not been heard from.”

Haynes also told the judge that Gabbiee’s mother knew the hearing was taking place but chose not to attend.

“She just did not want to be in this courtroom with him,” Haynes told the judge.

John Monk has covered courts, crime, politics, public corruption, the environment and other issues in the Carolinas for more than 40 years. A U.S. Army veteran who covered the 1989 American invasion of Panama, Monk is a former Washington correspondent for The Charlotte Observer. He has covered numerous death penalty trials, including that of the Charleston church killer, Dylann Roof, and that of child killer Tim Jones.
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