Caleb Brad Matlock told a judge that he will suffer the rest of his life knowing the pain he caused when he gunned down two young women and dumped their bodies in the Francis Marion National Forest.
Matlock, 25, of Summerville, was scheduled to begin trial Monday in the August 2012 deaths of 18-year-old Dana Woods and 22-year-old June Guerry. Instead, he pleaded guilty to two counts of murder, two counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, armed robbery and third-degree arson.
Circuit Judge Brooks Goldsmith sentenced Matlock to concurrent sentences totalling 55 years in state prison. Matlock is not eligible for parole on the murder charges.
"Truth is, this eats me up inside. It always has," Matlock tearfully said to Goldsmith and the victims' family members during a plea hearing in a Berkeley County court. "Sorry doesn't even cut it, but I am. I am really sorry. .... I'm going to live the rest of my life in hell, whether it's living or not."
Matlock's cousin Arthur Ray Chavis, 25, of Cordesville is also charged in the deaths. Both cousins were friends with Woods and Guerry, authorities said.
Chavis is being held at the Berkeley County jail awaiting trial.
During Monday's hearing, Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said Matlock fired the gun that killed Woods and Guerry in the summer of 2012.
The women, both of Berkeley County, went out for food around midnight Aug. 26 in Moncks Corner and disappeared shortly afterward.
Authorities searched for days before finding their bodies in the forest. Woods' Chevrolet Metro was also found burned and discarded.
According to Wilson, Matlock murdered Woods and Guerry so that he could steal the vehicle. Witnesses reported seeing a man driving the Metro in the area of Highway 402 before it was found burned in the woods.
"This defendant executed these girls for no reason. ... Nothing, except greed," Wilson said in court.
Matlock "sat at the intersection of evil and immaturity" when he committed the heinous act, Wilson said. She asked the judge to keep Matlock in prison for the remainder of his life.
Matlock's attorney, Stuart Axelrod, rebuffed allegations that his client didn't feel remorse for his actions.
"He lives with what he did. He will answer to God someday for what he did," Axelrod said.
Matlock agreed to plead guilty because he didn't want to force the family to sit through a trial, Axelrod said in court. He also hoped the move would help bring closure, the attorney said.
Guerry's sister, Rachel, told the judge she wasn't moved by Matlock's desire to "do the right thing" by pleading guilty.
"The right thing would have been to let her come home. ... I just hope you think about that while you're sleeping at night," Rachel Guerry said.
Emotions boiled over as family members of the victims urged the judge to impose a maximum sentence of life.
"Not only did he kill my youngin' but he took her and dumped her in a hole," said Charles Britt, Guerry's father. "Life in prison ain't nothin'. He's still alive. He should be hung. He really messed up some lives."
The two women were loved by many, and worked hard for what they had, the families said.
Guerry worked at Wal-Mart to support her then 2-year-old daughter. Woods was studying to become a paralegal, and aspired to go to law school.
"You took my innocent child from me," Woods' mother Jennifer Hill cried, gripping a picture of her daughter in her hand. She demanded that Matlock look at the dead woman just "one more time" before facing what he'd done. Instead, Matlock's face drifted down to the floor.
"There was no sense in this. My daughter worked for that $1,500 car that he killed them for. This is senseless," Hill said.
Axelrod asked the judge to consider setting a 40-year sentence, given Matlock's youth and lack of a significant criminal history prior to the deaths.
"I agree with the family. I agree with the community. This never should have happened. But it did. ...I believe, somehow in this world, we can make amends," Axelrod said.
Ultimately, Goldsmith sentenced Matlock to five years in prison for each possession charge, 15 years for arson, 30 years for armed robbery, and 55 years for each murder charge. The sentences are to be served concurrently with credit for time served.
Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.