A Ravenel man who last year gunned down three of his girlfriend's loved ones, including a woman pregnant with twins, pleaded guilty Thursday to five murder charges, avoiding what was expected to become a grueling death penalty prosecution for an already devastated family.

Kenneth Ancrum, 25, will spend the rest of his life in prison for the Lowcountry's deadliest episode of domestic violence in recent memory. The crimes rocked the small community where he opened fire on a May afternoon.

The toll that the killings have already taken played significantly into the plea agreement, which spared the family years of court proceedings that a capital case usually brings. Grief was apparent Thursday among those who packed a Charleston courtroom, with weeping relatives of the slain expressing feelings of hurt and forgiveness.

They had lost Betty Mungin, 55, as well as Alexis Mungin, 29, her daughter Armani, 8, and her unborn twins, who officials said could have survived outside the womb if it were not for the bullets Ancrum fired.

His girlfriend, Quiwanna Mungin, also was shot but lived to stand in court Thursday and describe Ancrum as "the devil."

Michael Warner, father of the slain girl, said during the hearing that he and others have chosen not to dwell on the pain Ancrum has caused.

"I forgive him," he said. "I miss my friend and my child. ... But instead of hate, I give him love."

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson had planned to push for the death penalty, which could have prompted a decade of difficult court proceedings for the Mungins. South Carolina also doesn't have the drugs to carry out the punishment, she noted.

Instead, prosecutors agreed to lifetime incarceration in exchange for Ancrum taking responsibility. Wilson said the decision emerged more from “pragmatism than mercy” for Ancrum. Circuit Judge Markley Dennis formally ordered the penalty.

Ancrum's lawyer offered some explanation for what had been going through his head.

Ancrum had grown upset at his girlfriend amid a dispute over visitation with their son, a 4-month-old who survived the mayhem. He had also experienced anger and hypervigilance stemming from post-traumatic stress disorder that developed during his time as a combat soldier with the Army’s elite 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan, Circuit Public Defender Ashley Pennington said.

None of that was an excuse.

"I really from the bottom of my heart apologize to the family," Ancrum said. "I wish this never happened."

Ancrum had no criminal convictions, but he had been arrested a year earlier on charges that he hit his then-pregnant girlfriend. The case was dropped when witness accounts changed.

On May 17, 2016, shortly after a custody hearing fell through, Ancrum went to the Mungins' home next door to his own in the Ravenel Mobile Park Park. He started shooting a .40-caliber Glock pistol, hitting three of his victims in the head.

Ancrum laughed at his dying victims, said Jessica Haynes, a daughter of Betty Mungin’s who witnessed the shooting. Haynes begged Ancrum not to shoot her, then escaped.

“I live it every day,” she said Thursday. “I will never forget.”

Ancrum's girlfriend walked into the bloody scene and saw him holding their baby, who was not harmed. Ancrum chased her and shot one of her legs.

Charleston County deputies stopped Ancrum as he tried to drive off with the bleeding Quiwanna Mungin in his car. He was arrested. She was rescued.

Quiwanna Mungin said Thursday that Ancrum had betrayed his role as her family’s protector.

“When (our son) gets old enough, I will tell him the truth,” she said. “His dad is a monster.”

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Reach Andrew Knapp at 843-937-5414. Follow him on Twitter @offlede.

Andrew Knapp is editor of the Quick Response Team, which covers crime, courts and breaking news. He previously worked as a reporter and copy editor at Florida Today, Newsday and Bangor (Maine) Daily News. He enjoys golf, weather and fatherhood.

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