Man Sentenced to Maximum 20 Years for Role in Conspiracy to Commit Murder-for-Hire in Shooting of Correctional Officer
COLUMBIA, SC—United States Attorney Bill Nettles stated today that SEAN ECHOLS, age 30, of Orangeburg, South Carolina was sentenced today to the statutory maximum sentence of 240 months’ (20 years) imprisonment with three (3) years of supervised release to follow the term of imprisonment. The federal sentence will be served consecutive to the unrelated state sentence ECHOLS is currently serving. In April of this year, ECHOLS plead guilty to conspiracy to use interstate facilities in murder-for-hire, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1958(a). United States District Judge Joseph F. Anderson, Jr. imposed the sentence. While being lead from the courtroom after the sentencing, ECHOLS, who was handcuffed, struggled with officers and yelled obscenities.
Evidence presented at the earlier change of plea hearing established that during the early morning hours of March 5, 2010, Robert Johnson, then a Captain with the South Carolina Department of Corrections, was confronted in his home by an armed gunman, who shot him numerous times in the chest, leaving him for dead. Captain Johnson, who has since retired, has undergone seventeen (17) surgeries as a result of this shooting and is still under a doctor’s care. The investigation, which is still ongoing, has revealed that the shooting was done in retaliation as a direct result of Captain Johnson’s enforcement of contraband rules in the South Carolina Department of Corrections. Captain Johnson had foiled a number of shipments of contraband (such as drugs and cell phones) into the state prison and some of the inmates were unhappy about that. The investigation revealed that earlier in 2010, a plot was hatched among certain inmates to retaliate against Captain Johnson, so that the shipments of contraband (such as drugs and cell phones) into the prison would not be disrupted. Interviews determined that one specific inmate was a person of interest in the plot. A shakedown of the prison revealed a cellular phone belonging to and used by that specific inmate. Cell records connected that inmate to another recently released inmate, SEAN ECHOLS. Through interviews, agents learned that ECHOLS, had communicated through cell phones with the inmate and discussed the plot to kill Captain Johnson, specifying how to carry out the shooting, what ECHOLS would receive in exchange for his role in the plot. After the discussions, that inmate then mailed an initial payment to ECHOLS for his role in the murder-for-hire conspiracy. Thus, ECHOLS and his co-conspirators used both cellular phones and the mail in this murder-for-hire plot, both of which are facilities of interstate commerce.
ECHOLS is currently serving a fifteen (15) year state sentence stemming from unrelated armed robbery/assault and battery 1st degree convictions in Orangeburg. ECHOLS will begin service of the twenty (20) year federal sentence upon conclusion of service of his state sentence. ECHOLS has prior state convictions for burglary 2nd degree of a dwelling, assault and battery with intent to kill (involved shooting of individual), threatening life of public employee, armed robbery, and assault and battery 1st degree.
The case was investigated by the Sumter Police Department, the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). Assistant United States Attorneys William K. Witherspoon and Stacey D. Haynes of the Columbia office handled the case.