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Three plea in 2010 Coward murder case

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Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2013 5:48 pm

FLORENCE, S.C. – Three remaining defendants in a 2010 slaying in Coward pleaded guilty Thursday to their roles in the death of Jimmy Legrand Spring II.

Matt “Dylan” Lee, 20, of 1438 Sam Lee Road, Scranton, pleaded guilty to criminal conspiracy, accessory before the fact to armed robbery and accessory after the fact to murder. His 18-year-old brother, Travis Carlton Lee of 1712 School Drive, Scranton, pleaded guilty to accessory before the fact to armed robbery and accessory after the fact to murder.

David “Shane” Matthews, 20, of 3070 Bay Lane, Coward, pleaded guilty to accessory before the fact to armed robbery and accessory after the fact to murder.

Dylan Lee received 14 years each for the accessory charges and five years for the conspiracy charge. Travis Lee received 12 years for each charge. Matthews received 10 years on each charge. All of Thursday's sentences are to run concurrently.

Thomas Elbert VanHoose Jr., now 21, the admitted triggerman and driving force behind the robbery plot, pleaded guilty in December 2011 to criminal conspiracy, armed robbery and murder. He is serving a 30-year prison sentence.

The Lee brothers and Matthews were spared of a murder charge, as investigators established though the three participated in the robbery plan, they had no idea anyone was going to be hurt or killed. Still, Circuit Judge D. Craig Brown said their actions cannot be taken lightly.

“Each decision we make in this life has a consequence. Some of those consequences are minimal, but some of those consequences are dire. Each of you young men made some big boy decisions that have big boy consequences,” Brown said before rendering his sentence. “You have affected the lives of so many people in a negative way because of the decisions that you all made.”

That was obvious in the courtroom Thursday as more than 50 friends and family members of the victim and the defendants wept on opposite sides of the courtroom.

“This is a tragic case,” 12th Circuit Solicitor Ed Clements said. “As an entire community, they’re torn up, and I just pray that God will grant some peace for everybody.”

Spring was shot to death in his home at 2304 Salem Road on Aug. 31, 2010. His 6-year-old son, Caleb, was in the home at the time of the slaying and found his father, bleeding and lifeless on the floor. A subsequent autopsy revealed Spring had been shot once behind the ear with a .25 caliber handgun.

A few weeks after Spring’s murder, investigators with the Florence County Sheriff’s Office received an anonymous tip about the crime through the CrimeStoppers hotline. The caller said VanHoose had indicated he was involved in “the incident at Spring’s house.”

Investigators immediately questioned VanHoose, who gave three different stories before finally revealing that he and three of his friends met up before the murder and planned to rob Spring of money and cocaine.

VanHoose told investigators the Lee brothers dropped he and Matthews off at Spring's residence and that beforehand, Dylan Lee gave him a .25 caliber handgun to take with them. He said he shot Spring during the robbery, and he and Matthews quickly fled the scene.

The four met back up after the slaying to divide up money and cocaine stolen from Spring’s home. Two days later, VanHoose told investigators, he and the Lee brothers took a boat out on Lake Santee to dispose of the gun. Dylan Lee said Thursday he bought the gun “off of a friend.”

Spring’s sister, Dusty Spring Braddock, said Thursday the damage the men did to her family, especially her brother’s young son whom she and her husband are now raising as their own, is irreversible.

“Today, my children know me as ‘Momma who cries all the time.’ Today, I am an only child, and that’s the last thing I ever wanted to be. I miss my brother with every ounce of my soul,” Braddock said. “Their families will visit them in prison, while we’re relegated to a cemetery.

Braddock said her young nephew who discovered his dad that morning suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. He has recurring nightmares and anxiety, requiring him to take four different medications a day.

“I am raising a heartbroken little boy, who still when he makes all As on his report card says he wishes his daddy was here so he could show him,” she said, sobbing “We all have been imposed a life sentence and never committed a crime.”

Accessory before the fact to armed robbery and after the fact to murder are considered violent, most serious offenses in South Carolina, meaning Matthews and the Lee brothers will have to serve their sentences “day-for-day.” They are not eligible for parole.

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