A possible death penalty verdict for a man accused of killing a South Carolina police officer was eliminated Monday — with the accused accepting a plea deal that saves his life.
Opening arguments were supposed to start Monday in the Stephon Carter murder trial.
Carter, age 18 at the time of the murder, was accused of shooting and killing Aiken Public Safety officer Scotty Richardson, who was married and had 3 children, in December 2011.
“Everyone called Scott a hero because he made the ultimate sacrifice, he was a hero for sure,” Scotty Richardson’s wife, Amelyn, told the courtroom.
Scotty Richardson’s wife made a strong testimony of the legacy her husband leaves behind. But she also talked about going on without him.
“My reality is that me and my children are living a life sentence of heartbreak and emptiness, I am living with heartache, sadness, loneliness, and tears,” said Amelyn.
Richardson’s mother spoke to the court also, but was barely able to speak and his brother was almost at a loss for words.
“I miss my brother and not a day goes by that I won’t live this dreadful nightmare,” said Richardson’s brother.
All three family members stood in front of the courtroom after Stephon Carter pleaded guilty in exchange for life in prison plus 30 years, with no possibility of parole.
Officer Richardson, who had 3 small boys, was killed during a traffic stop.
Carter accepted a choice for life to be spent behind prison bars, but it’s the life the Richardson family will have to live out that they didn’t get to choose.
“As we leave the courthouse today, we have a sense of relief and closure for which we have been longing, as you can imagine, there is some disappointment that Scotty’s murderer won’t receive the death penalty for his actions, however, we are at peace with a life sentence without parole,” said Richardson’s cousin, Gerry Owens.
The plea deal was presented by Aiken County Solicitor J. Strom Thurmond, Jr. on Monday morning. The agreement was to not seek the death penalty if Carter pleaded guilty.
In a briefing after the trial, Thurmond Jr. explained the reason why the plea was negotiated last Thursday night.
“The result of those deliberations was that we were not at all firmly convinced that the jury we had paneled would arrive at a unanimous death verdict,” said Thurmond.
Before Carter took his sentence, he faced the Richardson family one last time.
“I would like to apologize for taking away a son, a brother, and a father, I admit that it was wrong and I accept all responsibilities,” said Carter.
The other officer, who was shot on December 20, 2011, Travis Griffin, was in court on Monday. He chose not to speak in front of the courtroom.