Death Penalty Intent

Eighth Circuit Solicitor David M Stumbo and Laurens County Sheriff Don Reynolds announced Tuesday morning that the State has served formal notice that it intends to seek the death penalty against William Ryan Looper for the murder of 2-year-old Brantley Justin Smith.

Murder suspect is facing the death penalty


By Vic MacDonald



Authorities have announced that murder suspect William Ryan Looper will face South Carolina’s death penalty if he is convicted of killing a 2-year-old at a Clinton residence.

An announcement was made Tuesday morning by the Eighth Circuit Solicitor’s Office. The notice said the decision was made by Solicitor David Stumbo and Laurens County Sheriff Don Reynolds.

Eighth Circuit Public Defenders Chelsea McNeill, Tristan Shaffer and Janna Nelson were notified in connection with the case: State of South Carolina v. William Ryan Looper, Indictments No. 2018-GS-30-1472 through 1475. 

“The State will seek the death penalty in the above-entitled case if the defendant is found guilty on the charge of Murder that is presently pending against him,” the formal announcement said.

Looper is accused of killing the son of his live-in girlfriend, Brantley Justin Smith, age 2, on or about June 30, 2018. The boy’s lifeless body was found, protected by two dogs,  at 176 Country Lane, a street south of Clinton off Sunset Drive. The boy had been sexually abused, authorities said.

The death penalty informed the public defenders, “You will be notified at a later date of the multiple aggravating circumstances upon with the State will rely in seeking the death penalty.”

In South Carolina, a person can be put to death only after a two-phase trial in which a jury finds there are circumstances which make the killing heinous, such as torture. 

Dozens of people came to the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office this summer with the same thought, shouted after a candlelight vigil, “Justice for Brantley, No Plea Deal.”

The brief life of Brantley Smith had people in Laurens County wondering, Did we do enough? Could this not have been prevented? 

Anti-violence activist Jack Logan said, “This is a test for all of us.”

"Fly high baby boy daddy will always love you," the child's father posted on Facebook.

Brantley was found by officers at 2:23 a.m. June 30; he had been beaten, there was evidence of sexual abuse, and his 6 1/2 - and 8-year-old brothers were taken from the home, The Clinton Chronicle reported on July 4. 

Their mother, Jessica Blake Smith, was arrested, charged and held without bond for the crime of homicide by child abuse. Looper was arrested, charged and held without bond for the crimes of murder and criminal sexual conduct with a minor in the first degree. A report said he allegedly used a sex toy. Both are charged with two counts of unlawful conduct toward a child.

At the time, Reynolds said, "These animals, who are possessed with pure evil, have no place in our society. There is no rehabilitation for people this evil. I'm sure God has a place for these broken individuals, as he does for these precious children."

"Unfortunately, I have had to work many homicide cases over the years, some of which involved children, however, this by far is the worst thing I've ever seen. This incident brought tears to the eyes of our investigators and what these individuals did to this child is unimaginable," Captain Robert Wilkie said.

A vigil was held for the at the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office. To have access to the boy’s body, officers had to call in Laurens County Animal Control. A dog and its puppy were guarding the boy. Magistrate Thomas Copeland denied bond for Looper and Smith during a July 1 hearing. Brantley’s family watched the bond proceedings at the Johnson Detention Center. An initial report said injuries were visible all over Brantley’s body, and a brutal sexual molestation had taken place before the child died. Looper had been arrested previously for alleged break-ins, Reynolds said, but the suspect was not on the state’s sex offender registry.

Reynolds announced these charges:

William Ryan Looper, age 27
Murder (Warrant # 2018A3010200166)
Criminal Sexual Conduct with a Minor 1st Degree (Warrant # 2018A3010200167)
Unlawful conduct toward a child (Warrant # 2018A3010200169)
Unlawful conduct toward a child (Warrant # 2018A3010200168)

Jessica Blake Smith, age 26
Homicide by Child Abuse (Warrant # 2018A3010200172)
Unlawful conduct toward a child (Warrant # 2018A3010200170)
Unlawful conduct toward a child (Warrant # 2018A3010200171).

Charges against the mother, Jessica Blake Smith, allege that she did “knowingly aid and abet another person to commit child abuse or neglect, resulting in the death of a child.”

West Virginia Batman John Buckland came to Laurens in support of Brantley’s brothers, who were in DSS custody, giving them a ride in his custom-made Batmobile and urging a crowd at the Laurens County Park to work against child abuse. He said he wants to come back to Laurens County for presentations in the schools about how to detect the warning signs of abuse.







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