A man charged with the brutal murder and attempted murder of two people who picked him up while he was hitchhiking on Christmas Eve of 2014 will spend the rest of his life in prison. On Wednesday, The Honorable R. Scott Sprouse sentenced John Asher Farrell Villarreal to life for the murder of Mary Fowler, and handed down sentences of 30 years in prison each for charges of Carjacking and the Attempted Murder of James Dobson. Villarreal was also sentenced to 5 years for Possession of a Weapon during the Commission of a Violent Crime.

Villarreal pleaded guilty to all charges against him. Senior Assistant Solicitor Lauren Davis Price presented the case for the State, and Lee Cole represented the Defendant during the plea hearing.

Both Price and Solicitor David Wagner for the Tenth Circuit asked the Court for a life sentence. Solicitor Wagner had this to say following the sentence by the Court:

“There is no place for someone like John Villarreal in our society. His actions were heinous and cold, and show his complete lack of respect for human life. He took one life and permanently altered another. He was planning to take more lives but he was apprehended thanks to the hard work of the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office. The Court gave Mr. Villarreal the right sentence. A life sentence is the only way to protect society from the terrible danger he presents, and it is the only sentence befitting of the brutal crimes he committed.”  

The following detailed facts were presented by the State during the plea hearing:

On December 23, 2014 the defendant received a Facebook message from a girl living in Fitzgerald, Georgia, who he was in an online romantic relationship with at the time. The girl was 17 years old. She told the defendant that her step-father was abusing her. The defendant did not own a vehicle, so he asked her if he could manage to steal a car to come pick her up if she would go with him. She said she would.

On December 24, 2014 the defendant tried to hotwire a car, but was unsuccessful. He was standing in the road in the area of Fletcher Street in Greenville wearing a rain suit when the victims, James Dobson and Mary Fowler, stopped their car to speak with him. He asked them for a ride to I-85, and they agreed on a price of $5 for the ride. Once they got to the Interstate, the victims agreed to take the defendant to the Georgia state line for an additional $25.

During this ride the defendant asked the driver, James Dobson, to pull over so he could urinate. As soon as Mr. Dobson pulled over and put the car in park, the defendant shot Mary Fowler, the passenger, in the back of her head once, and then shot James Dobson multiple times. The defendant then dumped the bodies of the victims on the side of I-85 and left them there to die.

He then drove their vehicle, a Hyundai Elantra, to the first exit South to get rid of their belongings, which he dumped by the side of the road. He pulled up the street and swapped the tag of the Hyundai with a tag from a white SUV. He then proceeded to Love’s Truck Stop where he cleaned out the car and cut the seatbelts out of the car because of the bloodstains, then continued to Georgia.

Once there, at noon on the 24th, the defendant got in an altercation with the mother of the girl and police were called, he was soon released and headed back to South Carolina. On his return he was stopped by a Georgia State Trooper and was issued a speeding ticket.

Back in South Carolina the defendant headed to what he calls his “safe house” which is a property on Fletcher Street within Greenville County. He then rode his bike to his home in Travelers Rest.

At 6:17 AM on the 24th a call came in to 911 to report a male laying on the right shoulder of I-85 at Mile Marker 16 within Anderson County. Deputies responded and found the victims, who were both still alive at this point. They were transported to the ER and treated. Mary Fowler died in the evening of the 24th from her gunshot wound, and Mr. Dobson was in critical care.

Several days passed, until the 29th of December when the defendant attempted to retrieve the girl from Georgia once again. Again, he was unsuccessful. He drove back to South Carolina, but instead of returning to his “safe house” he stopped at the home of a friend in Anderson County. He also went to the Anderson Library to send a Facebook message to the girl in Georgia. Upon returning to the friend’s home in Anderson, the defendant parked the vehicle in front of their property. Deputy Coward with the ACSO was driving by at 10:28 that morning when he observed the Hyundai, which matched the description of the vehicle law enforcement had been searching for during this investigation, which was occupied by a white male. He approached the vehicle, and it is at this time the defendant was apprehended.

The defendant gave two statements to law enforcement after his arrest, first providing a false narrative and blaming his possession of the car on a friend who he said let him borrow it. The defendant then gave a second statement to law enforcement, confessing to all of these events, and providing explicit details about his plans, including how he intended to return to Georgia for a third time to do what he called a “wet extraction” of his online girlfriend where he planned to kill her step father, mother, and older brother. He explained to law enforcement he called it a “wet extraction” because it is so bloody.

Four firearms were recovered from the defendant’s vehicle, along with the rain suit which he told investigators he planned to wear in Georgia during the extraction because it was black and because blood would wash off of it easily. The gun used to shoot the victims, a Walther model P22 semiautomatic pistol, was in the vehicle, and was later matched by a firearms expert. It was outfitted with a laser sight. A Ruger rifle & pistol were also in car, along with a Bursa .380, and another rifle was found in his home.

In the defendant’s home, investigators found materials from Mr. Dobson’s wallet that the defendant had kept, alongside articles from local newspapers detailing the killing and the investigation, along with two shell casings from the bullets used to shoot Mr. Dobson and Ms. Fowler. They also found materials used to construct silencers, which the defendant admitted making and using during this incident, and at other times as well. During his interview the defendant described how he constructed the suppressors in explicit detail.

During his interview, the defendant also admitted to setting up training areas in Greenville County and practicing tactical shooting.

James Dobson survived the attack, but suffered two gunshot wounds to the head. Bullets entered behind his right ear and came out of his left eye. He still has 6 bullet fragments in his brain. His left eye is completely gone, and he has very limited vision in his right eye. He is paralyzed on his entire left side. He can no longer walk, take care of his own personal needs, has slurred and slowed speech, and is in constant pain.

In Anderson General Sessions Court today, thirty-four year old Kwan Raylee Fowler pled guilty but mentally ill to a charge of Domestic Violence of a High and Aggravated Nature. The Honorable Cordell Maddox sentenced the defendant to 20 years suspended to 15 years in prison with 5 years’ probation to follow. The State was represented by Sr. Assistant Solicitor Kristin Reeves. 

Anderson County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to a domestic dispute call on April 25, 2016 to an address on Pocalla Way in Anderson, where they found the victim, the girlfriend of the defendant, with several large burns to her neck, hair and multiple areas of her body. The victim told officers that she had been assaulted at her home which was about a block away and ran to this address for safety and to call for help. After arguing for several hours, Fowler grabbed a lighter and lighter fluid which he sprayed on the victim and set her on fire in front of two of her children. Ms. Smith was able to escape to the children’s bedroom, where she climbed out of the window and fled to her mother’s home for help.  The victim’s four children remained locked in two bedrooms. As she ran away, Ms. Smith looked back and saw Fowler drive away. He was later arrested at St. Francis Hospital, although he stated he did not know how or why he was there. Ms. Smith was transferred from AnMed Medical Center to the Augusta Burn Center. 

Solicitor David Wagner stated, “Kwan Fowler is a serious danger to the community. Ms. Smith and her family will be safer with him in prison for the next 15 years. Although she continues to receive treatment, the pain and scarring are a lasting reminder to her of the devastating effects of domestic violence. Our community must become involved in helping to prevent and reduce the incidences of domestic violence. If you are a victim of domestic violence, reach out for help. Counseling, shelters and other services are available to those who ask. One organization that offers help is Safe Harbor which can be reached by calling 1-800-291-2139.”

Mandy Butts appeared in Oconee General Sessions Court today for sentencing on a Financial Identity Fraud charge, which she pled guilty to on April 27, 2017. The State requested the maximum sentence due to the defendant’s prior record. Judge Scott Sprouse sentenced Butts to the maximum, 10 years. 

In April of 2016, a business owner in Seneca contacted Oconee County Sheriff’s Office and advised them that between October 27, 2015 and March 29, 2016 someone had used his business account to pay bills which were not his or the company’s. Sergeants Justin Ward and Mandy Tinsley investigated the case which led to the identification of the defendant, Mandy Butts. When confronted with the allegations, Butts confessed to the offenses. 

"Mandy Butts is a financial predator and the reason maximum sentences exist.  This ten year sentence ensures the citizens of Oconee County will be safe from her financial exploitation for the longest term possible."

 

ANDERSON, SC - Anderson County jurors found Justin Jamal Warner guilty of Murder and Attempted Armed Robbery and Possession of a Weapon during the Commission of a Violent Crime late this afternoon after 4 days of hearings and testimony. The Honorable Lawton McIntosh sentenced Warner to life in prison.  

 

During the trial, Deputy Solicitor Catherine Huey introduced surveillance video of the incident that took place on April 30, 2015 at the BP station near I-85 in Powdersville, SC. Mradulaben Patel was working alone that night in the convenience store that she and her husband had owned for several years. Around 10:15 p.m., a young black male came in, purchased a cigar and then shot Ms. Patel in an attempt to rob the cash register. The suspect then fled the scene. A customer who later entered the store found Ms. Patel, wounded and bleeding, on the floor behind the counter and called 911. Ms. Patel was taken to the hospital where she passed away on May 2nd as a result of the gunshot wound to her head.    

 

Law enforcement later received a tip which identified Justin Warner as the shooter. Further investigation revealed Warner’s date of birth to be the same as that of the last person to make a purchase at the store prior to the shooting. A cellphone number was identified that customer records indicated belonged to Justin Jamal Warner with the same date of birth as the store purchase. Cellphone records were then acquired and analyzed which showed that the phone was used in the vicinity of the crime scene both before and after the time of the crime.  A palm print taken at the scene was also identified as being that of Justin Warner.  

 

Following the verdict, Solicitor David Wagner stated, “It is impossible to understand why Justin Warner chose to do what he did that night. My office and the community are all grateful to law enforcement for the excellent work done on this case which helped us to put this violent defendant behind bars for the rest of his life. Our prayers go out to the Patel family for the tremendous loss they have suffered.”