Troy Knapp's killing was 10 years in the making, a gradual death by inches and degrees.
His brutal beating at the hands of an angry mob sparked outrage and spurred marches a decade ago. But long after the headlines faded, Knapp soldiered on in a battered and broken body that no longer responded to his commands.
Bedridden, in chronic pain and saddled with seizures, Knapp hung on until Nov. 6, when his body finally gave out for good. At age 43, he became North Charleston's 11th homicide of 2009, the victim of a slow-motion killing too old to carry the possibility of a murder charge.
Knapp died as a result of severe injuries he suffered in his October 1999 beating,
Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten said. But there is nothing more police can do. South Carolina law won't allow a murder prosecution in a case where the victim lives more than three years after his injuries were inflicted.
Six men were convicted of lynching in the attack on Knapp. Just two remain in prison, though they are expected to be released within the year.
That doesn't sit right with Knapp's family.
"I think it sucks," said Angela Knapp, his sister and caretaker. "Their lives are just getting started as his is ending. I think they should at least have to pay to bury him."
Knapp, a former auto mechanic, was 34 when he and friend Gary Thornburg were attacked while riding their bicycles near Bexley Street and South Rhett Avenue. Thornburg escaped serious injury, but Knapp was beaten so badly he was in a coma for weeks.
"When I first saw him in the hospital, I said 'They beat him to death. He just didn't die,' " his aunt, Annie Minnick, said.
When Knapp finally awoke, he was mostly paralyzed, unable to walk or take his young son on the fishing trips they used to share. Doctors had to remove a portion of his brain and a section of skull, leaving him with a large depression in his head. He couldn't remember much about the attack itself.
Police initially charged 16 suspects between the ages of 14 and 22. The case stoked racial tensions, as the suspects are black and the two victims white. But police have said robbery, not race, appeared to be the motive for the assault.
After the case ended with guilty pleas from a half-dozen defendants in the spring of 2001, Knapp carried on as best he could. Unable to feed, clean or care for himself, he continued to live in a small, weathered home on Lambert Street, where his family tended to his many needs. Somehow, he kept his sense of humor. He once joked that he was going to look up actor Lee Majors to learn where he could be fitted for a bionic brain and legs. He refused to be bitter, his sister said.
After hanging on for so long, death came suddenly. Knapp had a seizure on the night of Nov. 5. The next morning, his stepfather found him unresponsive and yelled for his sister to call EMS. It was too late. He was already gone.
Knapp's family went into debt to pay for his funeral, his sister said. He never got a dime of the restitution money his attackers had been ordered to pay, and no life insurance company would touch him. If his aunt hadn't offered a burial plot next to his grandparents, Knapp's family might not have had a place to lay him to rest, Angela Knapp said.
"For 10 years I took care of him. Now, I don't know what I'm going to do," she said, gazing around the home. "He was a very good person, a real joy to be around. He's going to be greatly missed."
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mob beating victim bed-ridden; published 06/09/00Knapp attackers get prison time; Six plead guilty to lesser charge, published 05/15/01
Notice about comments:
The Post and Courier is pleased to offer readers the enhanced ability to comment on stories. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point.