COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A man who shot and killed three people in a South Carolina home where he was living and then used their smartphones to send himself money for a plane ticket was sentenced to life in prison Friday after pleading guilty.
Jeffery Powell killed his aunt’s husband, a cousin and his cousin’s daughter in their Greenwood home last August. He also shot and wounded an 8-year-old boy who hid in a bathroom with his dead sister for several hours before going to a neighbor’s home to look for help, Solicitor David Stumbo said.
Powell, 37, came into 32-year-old Megan Dinkins’ bedroom on Aug. 2 and shot at her and her children as they slept, Stumbo said.
He then waited for 56-year-old Randy Perkins to come home from his overnight shift at a plant, shooting him three times in the back of the head. Perkins still had his lunchbox slung over his shoulder when police found his body, the prosecutor said.
Police rushing to the home had to step over Perkins’ body to check the rest of the home because the boy was unsure if Powell had left, Stumbo said.
Dinkins was found dead in her bed. She appeared to have written “J” in blood just above her head.
“What these guys find when they get inside is nothing short of a nightmare,” Stumbo said.
After the killings, Powell used smartphones belonging to Dinkins and Perkins to transfer money, investigators said.
“He needed money for an Uber ride and a plane trip,” Stumbo said.
Investigators uncovered the money transfers and plane ticket within hours and Powell was arrested at a motel in Jacksonville, Florida.
Powell pleaded guilty to three counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. He was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences without parole. He never gave investigators a good reason for the shooting, but police think he worried he was about to get kicked out of the house.
Perkins’ sister Wanda Perkins Knowles said her brother was “a man of integrity, compassion, humor, loyalty, truth, love and generosity.”
“He let him live inside his house. He fed him. I don’t understand,” Knowles said.
Powell’s sobs could be heard through the courtroom as she spoke.
Powell later tried to talk to the family of the people he killed directly. He turned toward them and spent 25 seconds fighting off sobs and wiping his eyes with his wrists handcuffed before saying “I’m so sorry” and dissolving into more tears.
Stumbo said he thought Powell deserved the death penalty. But the 8-year-old boy’s family did not want to have to testify at length and Stumbo said South Carolina’s lack of death penalty drugs, which have prevented the state from executing anyone in over a decade, could have made seeking that punishment a “symbolic gesture.”
“Right now in South Carolina you have a lower life expectancy in a general population in a maximum security prison than you do on death row, which is ridiculous,” Stumbo said.