Murder suspect's ex-girlfriend testifies he tried to make her take blame for Sumter woman's death

BY KEN BELL
Special to The Sumter Item
Posted 4/11/19

The former girlfriend of James Ginther III testified in court on Tuesday that he admitted killing his ex-wife, Suzette Ginther, in November 2017, and wanted her to claim she had killed her so he could …

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Murder suspect's ex-girlfriend testifies he tried to make her take blame for Sumter woman's death

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The former girlfriend of James Ginther III testified in court on Wednesday that he admitted killing his ex-wife, Suzette Ginther, in November 2017, and wanted her to claim she had killed her so he could raise his children.

Rachel Salak, who now lives in California, said James Ginther wanted to tell her how he did it.

"But I didn't want to know," she said. "I still don't want to know."

Ginther, 28, is charged with kidnapping and murder in the killing of Suzette Ginther, 27, whose body was discovered in a shallow grave off Burnt Gin Road only hours after she died on Nov. 16, 2017.

Salak testified that she and James Ginther lived together in Columbia and shared a child. They had bought rings and a marriage license, but Salak said she had been having second thoughts.

After living briefly in Virginia, the couple moved to California to be near her family. But, they soon moved back to South Carolina so James Ginther could be near his children. She testified that he was a good father and quit work to help take care of their newborn son.

Salak said, because she suffered health issues, she and James Ginther took turns taking care of the baby at night. She also testified that he periodically stopped in at a Sumter elementary school to eat lunch with the boy and girl that he fathered with Suzette Ginther.

Salak said she didn't like Suzette Ginther at first.

"Mainly because of what James had told me about here," she said.

But, that changed after Salak's son was born.

"She was very concerned for him and really helped me out," she said.

Salak said her family was pressuring her to get married.

"But, there were things that made me uncomfortable toward James," she said.

She said James Ginther talked about getting custody of his and Suzette Ginther's children.

She said they were collecting information to use in family court to fight for custody. She said he would go to his children's school, leave his vehicle parked out of sight and see what he could see about Suzette Ginther's coming and going.

"He was concerned that the children were being left at home alone after school," she said. "There were a lot of disagreements between him and Suzi (Suzette Ginther) - lots of arguments."

Salak testified that during the night of Nov. 15, 2017, she woke up because she thought she heard a noise. She said she went downstairs to check and saw James Ginther was coming in from the kitchen at the back of the house.

"He was taking off his clothes and putting them in the washing machine," Salak said. "At some point, he was saying that he had had an argument with Suzi. Then he ran and got in the shower."

A few hours later, around 7 a.m. on that Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017, a Columbia police officer knocked on the door looking for James Ginther. He told Salak that a vehicle registered to him had been located abandoned in Sumter County. He took James Ginther's number and forwarded it to Sumter County authorities.

She said she went upstairs and awakened Ginther to tell him what the police officer had said.

"He was mad that his name was still on the vehicle," she said.

Salak said she learned that Saturday that Suzette Ginther's body had been found.

Around 4 p.m. that day, after leaving the autopsy of Suzette Ginther's body, Investigators Randall Stewart and Randall Hilliard from the Sumter County Sheriff's Office, along with SLED Agent Christine Gainey, stopped by to see James Ginther. They spent two hours trying to convince him to voluntarily give a DNA sample and to allow them to take his handgun for an analysis.

At one point, while Stewart and Hilliard were inside talking with James Ginther, Gainey and Salak went outside to talk.

Salak said she was "freaked out" when Ginther refused to give a DNA sample. She convinced him to call Inv. Stewart and have the trio return to the home to collect it, which they did.

"I didn't sleep well that night," Salak said. "When I get stressed I get migraines. I was up most of the night."

Sunday morning, she said she confronted him.

"I don't remember how I said it. I was something like, 'You did it, didn't you?'"

She said he didn't respond but went back to sleep.

"His demeanor changed a lot," Salak said. "He was very agitated. I wanted him to leave."

"He was trying to get me to say I murdered Suzi," she said. "My health was bad, and he was going to lose the kids. I was so overwhelmed. "

Salak said she refused and told Ginther she was afraid of him.

She said Ginther tried to come up with a plan saying he would go to the western-most city in Wyoming and on the six- or eight-month anniversary of the killing they could meet up.

"He was acting very different," she said. She testified that he wanted to go get the two children he had in common with Suzette Ginther, but he didn't.

She said James Ginther packed some things and told her to go outside and look around to be sure there were no police cars there.

After he left, Salak said she grabbed the business card that Stewart had left and ran next door.

"I told him I had some urgent information and needed to talk with him."

Since Salak and SLED agent Gainey had already established a rapport, Stewart called to see if she would interview Salak.

"As soon as she finished the interview, she brought the recording to me and we watched it together," Stewart said.

Based on the information from the interview, Stewart obtained arrest warrants and entered James Ginther's information into the national crime computer base.

He was captured a few hours later after his vehicle struck a guardrail near Louisville, Kentucky.

Gainey, earlier Wednesday, said she scoured traffic video camera recordings of all roads leading out of Columbia to get to Sumter from midnight until 7 a.m. Nov. 16, 2017.

A camera at the intersection of Atlas Road and U.S. Highway 378 captured a Nissan Cube, heading out Atlas road at 12:54 a.m., she said.

Public Defender Jason Bridges asked Gainey how many Nissan Cubes were registered in South Carolina. She said she did not know. He also pointed out the just because a vehicle was on Atlas Road did not mean it turned onto U.S. 378 toward Sumter.

Also on Wednesday, Dr. Kim Collins, a forensics pathologist who conducted the autopsy on Suzette Ginther's body, testified that the bullet that killed her traveled an almost level path from back to front.

"There is no way to tell the trajectory from where it was fired," she said. "You could turn the body in numerous positions to have that same path. She could have been standing or kneeling."

Testimony will continue starting at 9:30 a.m. today at the Sumter County Judicial Center.