A state parole board on Wednesday denied convicted murderer Richard Valenti's 18th bid for parole.
Valenti, 71, is serving two life sentences in the deaths of Sherri Clark, 14, and Alexis Ann Latimer, 13, in 1973. Their bodies were found in two shallow graves on Folly Beach more than 10 months after their disappearance.
Sherri Clark's sister, Paula Clark Marion, said the parole board deliberated only a couple of minutes before making its unanimous decision.
"I'm so, so thankful for everyone's support keeping him in prison. It's like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders," Marion said shortly after the hearing ended. "I feel relieved, at least for another year and a half until we have to start doing all of this again."
Marion was one of about 10 people who attended the hearing, including multiple law enforcement officials, she said. They brought with them more than 6,500 signatures opposing Valenti's release.
Ed Fedol, whose stepdaughter survived a 1974 kidnapping by Valenti, was there with his wife Cecile.
Fedol said his wife prepared a statement to read to the board. He stood in his wife's place after she grew too emotional to finish reading the letter aloud, Fedol said.
"I'm 99.9 percent positive there's no way he's ever going to get out. When it comes right down to it he's 71 years old, he spent 40 of those years in prison and he has no trade. If they let him out what is he going to do?" Fedol said after the hearing.
"In jail he has medical and dental, three meals a day and a cot to sleep on. Staying in jail is probably his best situation."
Valenti, a former sailor stationed at Charleston Naval Base, forced the teens under his house at gunpoint. He bound and gagged them and made them stand on chairs. He tied ropes around their necks, kicked the chairs away and watched the girls die.
Valenti has either waived or been denied release from prison 18 times since he became eligible for parole in 1983.
At the time of his sentencing, the law required that Valenti serve only 10 years in prison before being eligible for parole on the life sentences, said Pete O'Boyle, a spokesman for the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services. He comes up for parole every two years.
Valenti also was charged with strangling 16-year-old Mary Earline Bunch in 1974 and attacking five other women. Those charges were dropped after he got two life sentences.
Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.