A Sumter man pleaded guilty Wednesday to shooting a man eights times in the head and discarding his body in Lake Marion after burying and moving it twice in 2018.
Stephen Stinnette, 32, appeared before Judge Larry Hyman Jr. at the Sumter County Judicial Center, the tattoos covering his arms and chest hidden under a long-sleeved shirt and jail stripes. Unhidden was his head, which in place of hair was a tattooed hairline and scalp covered in monotone ink save for two massive red swastikas, one above each ear.
According to evidence presented during the case, Stinnette shot and killed Jerry Johnson, 31, of Sumter, who was found dead in Lake Marion in April 2018. Stinnette accepted guilty charges of murder, possession of a weapon during a violent crime and, in connection to an incident after being detained, escape from the Sumter County Sheriff's Office Detention Center.
Before the judge, Third Circuit Solicitor Ernest "Chip" Finney III said seven or eight days after Johnson's family reported him missing, law enforcement found his body tied to a dolly floating in Lake Marion in Orangeburg.
After investigating the homicide, law enforcement learned Johnson, who is black, had been in contact with Stinnette. Finney said Stinnette, Johnson and another man, Andrew Scurry, 36, reportedly robbed a trailer on April 16, 2018, where Johnson left the crime to get phone service.
Finney said Johnson leaving the scene led to an argument, which resulted in Stinnette shooting Johnson in the head eight times. Scurry assisted Stinnette in hiding the body in a wooded area, but Scurry started talking about what happened. Stinnette then had Andrew Dustin Dill, 32, help recover and bury the body at another location.
Finney said Stinnette had his girlfriend help him recover the body a third time and place it in Lake Marion because he became worried Dill, as Scurry, would not stay quiet.
Investigators found two women who purchased plastic to use in covering up the crime, Finney said.
Multiple suspects, including Stinnette's mother, reportedly helped Stinnette in the incident. Kimberly McFaddin McLeod, 36, of Bay Blossom Ave., Lisa Avins, 57, of Pinewood Road, and Scurry, who lives on U.S. 15 South, were charged with accessory after the fact. Avins is Stinnette's mother.
Dill, who is from Mayesville, turned himself in and was charged with accessory after the fact of murder.
Finney said Stinnette told officers where he hid the weapon and admitted to the violent crime. He also said Stinnette masterminded a riot and escape from the Sumter County Sheriff's Office Detention Center this July, during which an inmate set his bed on fire to distract and attack deputies. A handful of inmates were charged in the incident, and Stinnette was the only one to escape, if only for seven to eight hours.
Stinnette's defense attorney, Ray Chandler, said Finney's facts were correct on the murder, use of weapon and escape. Stinnette also confirmed the facts of the case.
Finney provided photographs of evidence to Judge Hyman, including the position in which Johnson's body was found.
"This is a negotiated plea," Chandler said. Stinnette's plea negotiated 30 years for murder, five consecutive years for the prison riot and five concurrent years for the weapon charge, totaling 35 years of imprisonment.
Stinnette stood throughout the hearing, straight-faced and clenching his jaw, only answering the judge's yes or no questions.
Members of Johnson's family, including his aunt, uncle, sister and others, attended the hearing. His sister stepped out of the courtroom during the proceedings.
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