For the third time, Paula Keener stood up in a Charleston courtroom and described the painful details behind the 2009 murder of her 49-year-old sister, Kathryn.
Standing beside her mother, Keener described how investigators found her sister's mangled body floating face down in a pond on Bear Swamp Road near West Ashley almost five years ago.
"She had been devoured by alligators," Keener said.
Her body was badly damaged after being dumped in the pond, but investigators discovered she'd died from one gunshot to the head, according to authorities.
During a hearing this week, Paula Keener faced the final co-defendant to plead guilty in connection to the case.
Jamal Dover, 26, of Ravenel, pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact of a felony.
A judge accepted a negotiated sentence of five years of probation as part of the plea agreement and also sentenced Dover to 100 hours of public service.
Authorities said Dover removed evidence from Keener's vehicle around the time she was shot and killed. Keener's car was left abandoned in a church parking lot on Wappoo Road and set on fire, but investigators don't know who ignited the car, authorities said.
Dover, Murphy and another co-defendant were seen going into the vehicle before it was burned and taking items out of the car, according to authorities.
Prosecutors don't know exactly how much Dover knew about the killing, according to 9th Circuit Assistant Solicitor Jennifer Shealy, who prosecuted this case and the cases of the two other co-defendants.
Jessie James Murphy Jr., 26, of Charleston, pleaded guilty in 2011 to voluntary manslaughter and is serving a 13-year sentence. He had originally been charged with murder. Ronald William McKinley, 30, of Charleston, pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact of murder in 2012 for getting rid of evidence following Keener's death. He was sentenced to probation.
Shealy said there are phone records between the three defendants that paint a picture for prosecutors as to the likeliness of what happened the night Keener was killed, but it's not enough evidence to go to trial, which is why prosecutors offered the plea agreement to Dover.
"It has been a frustrating case," Shealy said.
Investigators never found the weapon used to kill Keener and the condition of her body left authorities with no forensic evidence, according to Shealy. The lack of cooperation from potential witnesses also hindered the investigation, Shealy said.
Keener had a crack cocaine habit and had bought drugs from dealers in the Red Top area, according to prosecutors. On the day she was killed, she reportedly loaned her Toyota 4Runner to Murphy, which was a common practice for her to do in exchange for drugs. It remains unclear why she was killed.
Despite the probationary sentence imposed, Dover may have to face some prison time. The guilty conviction is a violation of parole for a previous drug conviction. It remained unclear Friday how long, if any, a jail sentence he may face for that violation.
Dover, who was a friend of Kathryn Keener, said little during the hearing except to offer an apology to her family.
"He's had five years to be honest and forthcoming," Paula Keener said. "He has remained as silent as death."
Reach Natalie Caula Hauff at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.
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