Kamp pleads guilty but mentally ill
Boxed in by her own testimony, Heather Kamp on Monday pleaded guilty but mentally ill to murder in the June 2009 torture and slaying of former friend Kate Waring on James Island.
The plea exposes Kamp, 31, to the possibility of life in prison. Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson Jr. accepted her plea but deferred sentencing on the murder count and two other charges until a later, unspecified date.
Kamp seemed to have few legal options after testifying at length -- and without immunity -- in October about her involvement in Waring's killing. That testimony came during the murder trial of her husband, Ethan Mack, which ended with a hung jury.
Kamp headed into that trial with a plea agreement that likely would have capped her potential prison time at 45 years on a manslaughter count. Prosecutors, however, pulled the plug on that deal after determining Kamp had lied in her account to authorities. Nicholson formally voided that plea agreement Monday.
Kamp's lawyer, Frank Cornely, told the judge the guilty but mentally ill plea was appropriate because a forensic psychiatric evaluation found Kamp's borderline personality disorder rendered her incapable of conforming to the law at the time of Waring's killing.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said the state doesn't necessarily agree with that finding, which is at odds with previous psychiatric evaluations of Kamp. But prosecutors saw no need to contest the mentally ill plea because the potential sentence -- 30 years to life -- remains the same under South Carolina law regardless of the distinction.
Cornely said the benefit to Kamp is that she would be housed in a prison unit where she can receive mental health treatment. If her condition improves, she would be placed in the general population with other inmates, he said.
Kamp had little to say during the appearance other than answering the judge's questions about her background and her understanding of the proceedings. At times, her voice barely squeaked above a whisper. Dressed in slacks and a blouse, Kamp wore a look of dismay on her face through much of the hearing, during which she also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and forgery.
Waring's family did not attend the plea hearing.
During the October trial, Kamp testified that Mack repeatedly jolted the 28-year-old Waring with a stun gun, bashed her head with a wine bottle and dropped her in a water-filled bathtub to die at the couple's James Island home, June 12-13, 2009.
Kamp said she and Mack then dumped Waring's body in woods on Wadmalaw Island, where her remains were found in October 2009. Kamp's directions led private investigators to the remains.
The fact that Kamp's sentence still hangs in the balance should give her some incentive to continue cooperating with authorities as they prepare to retry Mack on the murder charge. She was the star witness in the first trial, which lasted eight days. But Kamp has been an unpredictable wild card from the beginning, an admittedly prolific liar with a long history of mental illness.
Wilson said Kamp is under no obligation to cooperate with prosecutors, and any potential testimony she does provide must be vetted and corroborated first. "She may agree to cooperate all day long, but we have to have her telling the truth," she said.
Wilson has said she plans to retry Mack, 30, in late April.
He is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence on charges of forgery and obstruction of justice in connection with Waring's death. Authorities said Mack lied several times to investigators looking for Waring, and tried to cash a forged $4,500 check from her bank account two days after she went missing.
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556.