Walhalla, SC—The Honorable Lawton McIntosh sentenced Lee Mikeal Cawthon to 40 years in prison today for the Murder of his wife Rebecca plus 5 years consecutive for the Possession of a Weapon during the Commission of a Violent Crime. 

After divorcing his first wife, Lee Cawthon married Rebecca when she was 17 years old. Lee and Rebecca Cawthon shared an unconventional open marriage in which they invited one or more sexual partners to join them in their relationship.

Rebecca and Lee were virtually inseparable throughout the course of their marriage. They often chose occupations where they could work together to minimize their time apart. Around the time of Rebecca’s death she had begun a new job and was gaining her independence. The Cawthon’s marriage also became strained during this time as they had invited a male partner into their relationship for the first time.

On Easter Sunday of 2017, the Cawthon’s returned home after consuming alcohol with their male partner. An argument ensued and the defendant assaulted Rebecca Cawthon. She subsequently sought treatment at Oconee Memorial Hospital, telling a medical professional she had fallen down the stairs. After being released she sent photos of her injuries to friends. She sought comfort from the male companion that she and her husband had shared. On April 17th, Rebecca returned home to collect her belongings and tell the defendant she wanted a divorce. He became enraged at the thought of losing her and shot her multiple times. After ensuring that the victim was deceased, Lee Cawthon placed coins on Rebecca’s eyes “for the boatman”, referring to a death ritual from Greek mythology wherein coins are placed on the eyes of the dead to ensure the passage over the River Styx, which divides the living and the dead. 

After cleaning the crime scene, the defendant fled to Clayton, Georgia but subsequently returned. During this time, he was using the victim’s phone to send text messages to the victim’s relatives to cover up her disappearance. Upon return to Oconee County, Cawthon placed the victim’s body in a 55-gallon oil drum and stored the drum in a grease pit under a tractor. He then traveled to Oklahoma to visit an individual named Hamster who they had met in the online game, World of Warcraft. The defendant again returned to Oconee County. At this point the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office was investigating Rebecca’s disappearance as a missing person’s case. On May 3rd, 2017, the defendant came to the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office and confessed to murdering his wife. He directed investigators that the victim’s decomposed body could be found on their property in the oil barrel and told them they could find the murder weapon in his vehicle.

“We need to thank the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office for their outstanding work in this case,” stated Solicitor David Wagner following Cawthon’s sentencing. “Rebecca Cawthon was a victim of domestic violence who was attempting to free herself from the situation and start a new life. Lee Cawthon stole that opportunity from her. Today’s sentence effectively ensures that Lee Cawthon will never have the opportunity to walk as a free man.”

ANDERSON, SC--After a three day trial, an Anderson County jury has convicted Damorius Gaines of Armed Robbery, Attempted Armed Robbery, 2 counts of Possession of a Weapon during the Commission of a Violent Crime, and Unlawful Possession of a Pistol. The Honorable Cordell Maddox, Jr., sentenced Gaines to 20 years provided upon the service of 15 years, with the balanced suspended to 5 years of probation. Gaines will have to serve at least 85% of this sentence before he is eligible for parole. 

On February 16, 2017, at around 7:40 pm, Damorius Gaines attempted to gain entry into the Little General located at 1001 S. Murray Avenue. He was masked and armed with a handgun. Fortunately, store employees had just locked the doors and he was unable to complete the robbery. About 20 minutes later on the same night, Gaines, again masked and armed with a handgun, entered the Dollar Tree located at 910 S. Main Street, where he held a cashier at gunpoint and forced her to give him money from her register. Both of these incidents were captured on surveillance videos. If not for the fact that Gaines lifted his mask to reveal a brief glimpse of his face after failing to gain entry into the Little General, coupled with an informant tip, Gaines may never have been apprehended.   

“We will not allow people like Mr. Gaines to terrorize or even attempt to prey upon Anderson County businesses and their hard working employees. Our community is safer tonight with Mr. Gaines behind bars. I want to thank the Anderson Police Department for their hard work investigating these crimes and for working with my office to secure these convictions,” said Solicitor David Wagner following the verdict.

ANDERSON, SC--This week an Anderson County jury found James Milton Gambrell guilty of Solicitation to Commit Armed Robbery. The Honorable R. Scott Sprouse sentenced Gambrell the maximum sentence of 10 years in jail. His Co-defendant Woodrow Curry pled guilty to Voluntary Manslaughter in August of 2017 and testified for the State in Gambrell’s trial. Following his testimony this week, Curry was sentenced to 28 years in jail.   A third Co-defendant, Jason Carver, was found guilty of Murder in August of 2017 and is currently serving a 30 year sentence. Curry had testified against Carver in his trial as well. 

On the evening of March 28, 2016, Jason Franklin Carver and Woodrow Curry were sent by James Milton Gambrell to a home in Powdersville to collect either drugs or money from victim Steven Cameron. Carver drove Gambrell’s white Buick Regal to the victim’s home with Curry in the passenger’s seat. When they arrived, the men were on the porch when an altercation ensued. During that altercation, Curry pulled a .25 caliber gun and shot Cameron twice in the chest. Cameron died almost instantly from his injuries. Carver and Curry were each charged with Murder. Gambrell was charged with Accessory Before the Fact and Solicitation of Armed Robbery. 

Solicitor David Wagner made the following statement following the sentencing this week:

         “All three of the men involved in this killing have decades to consider their actions in jail. Law enforcement did a fantastic job investigating this crime and working with my Office to secure these convictions. I hope these strong sentences give some closure to Mr. Cameron’s family today.”

 

Walhalla, SC --  Taylor Louise Bright appeared before the Honorable Scott Sprouse today in Oconee County pleading guilty in the death of her husband, John Taylor Bright in Seneca, SC in January of this year. The defendant, represented by Larry Brandt, pled guilty to Reckless Homicide and Unlawful Neglect of a Child. The State was represented by Asst. Solicitor Brian Livingston.  Judge Sprouse sentenced the Defendant to 10 years in prison for Reckless Homicide.  He also imposed a consecutive sentence of 10 years suspended on the service of 2 years and 5 years probation for Unlawful Neglect of a Child. 

On January 18, 2018, following a disagreement, Taylor Bright hit her husband with a Dodge Ram 3500 pickup truck and dragged him approximately 1600 feet under the truck through the streets of Seneca. Mr. Bright died as a result of chest and abdominal trauma. Although there had been one report of a domestic problem in 2016 which was determined to be unfounded, there had been no other calls to law enforcement regarding domestic matters between the Brights.  The Defendant and victim’s 4 year old daughter was in the truck during the incident.  Toxicology reports indicated Taylor Bright, who was pregnant at the time, was legally intoxicated and she also admitted using marijuana.

Solicitor David Wagner stated after the plea, “I applaud the outstanding work of the Seneca Police Department that helped secure a guilty plea in this case.  This case is a senseless tragedy that has forever impacted the lives of two families.  Taylor Bright’s toxic combination of anger, alcohol and motor vehicles has left two children to grow up without either parent.”