MONCKS CORNER — It’s been 967 days since Jennifer Hill has seen her daughter Dana Woods’ face or heard her laugh, she told a judge Tuesday in a Berkeley County courtroom.
After hearing that Arthur Ray Chavis, one of two men charged in the killing, would spend the next 25 years of his life in prison, Hill had one thing to say: “He should have gotten life.”
Chavis, 26, of Cordesville, had faced two counts of murder in the August 2012 shooting deaths of Woods, 18, and 22-year-old June Guerry. He pleaded guilty to lesser charges of voluntary manslaughter, as well as two counts of armed robbery and two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.
Caleb Brad Matlock, Chavis’ codefendant in the case and the suspected triggerman, pleaded guilty last August to two counts of murder and was sentenced to 55 years in prison.
Chavis stood dressed in an orange jumpsuit and shackled at the hands and feet during his plea hearing.
Chavis told deputies he didn’t know Matlock intended to kill the girls when he persuaded them to go into the forest with them, according to 9th Circuit Deputy Solicitor Bryan Alfaro. Chavis claimed he thought they were going to steal Woods’ Chevrolet Metro to commit another robbery, Alfaro said.
Hill spoke with her daughter shortly before midnight on Aug. 26, 2012 when Woods called to say she was giving somebody a ride. She and Guerry drove to Cordesville to pick up Matlock and Chavis.
The two men escorted the two women to a remote hiking trail. Matlock shot each of them with a 9 mm handgun.
Woods’ burned car and her body were found in the woods off Cane Gully Road in the Francis Marion National Forest near Cordesville.
Guerry’s body was found about 10 miles away in a watery dirt pit off a dirt path known as Walleye C Road after a man visiting a nearby family cemetery noticed a shirt dangling from a tree.
“Nine hundred and sixty-seven days. That’s how long it’s been since I’ve seen my daughter’s face. ... You might not have pulled the trigger that night, but you might as well have,” Hill said to Chavis during the hearing.
Chavis spoke only to answer questions asked by Judge Kristi Harrington and declined to talk further about the situation. His attorney, Beau Seaton, however, referred to his guilty pleas as being in “the best interest of all.”
“He has no way of expressing the remorse he feels,” Seaton said. The only way Chavis can “atone” for his actions is by continuing to cooperate with authorities, Seaton said.
Harrington issued a concurrent sentence of 25 years in prison. Voluntary manslaughter carries a penalty up to 30 years.
“He should have gotten life,” Hill said shortly after the hearing concluded. “To be honest, I think both of them should have gotten life. We’re working on changing that law.”
Dave Munday contributed to this story. Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908.