An elderly Vietnam veteran who in 2018 killed two Florence police officers and wounded five others in an ambush-style attack will avoid a death penalty trial after he pleaded guilty Thursday to the killings and woundings in a non-publicized hearing in an Aiken County courtroom.
Fred Hopkins, 79, a disbarred lawyer who was an expert marksman, will be sentenced at a later date, Boyd Young, one of Hopkins’ defense attorneys, said after the hearing.
Under a plea agreement with the Florence solicitor’s office, Hopkins will get life sentences, Young said.
The killings of two police officers and woundings of five others was one of the largest shootings of police officers in South Carolina in modern times.
Sentencing of Hopkins, who had once posted on Facebook, “I just love the smell of gunpowder in the mornin’s,” will take place at a later date. When arrested, he had 129 guns stored at his home, investigators said.
In a running gun battle with police before he was arrested, Hopkins fired out of second-story windows and used three different weapons, two assault-type rifles and a pistol, police said.
State Judge Eugene “Bubba” Griffith accepted the plea. In 2019, Griffith presided over the Lexington County death penalty trial of Tim Jones, a software engineer who killed his five young children. The trial took nearly four weeks and some 60 witnesses testified.
Young estimated that a death penalty trial for Hopkins would have taken at least six or seven weeks. The plea spares the state a lot of expense, and the witnesses and family members of the victims a lot of heartbreak, Young said.
In October 2018, Hopkins fired at Florence police officers who were coming to his house to serve a search warrant in a sexual abuse case where his son would later plead guilty.
Several Florence city police officers were wounded, and Hopkins kept firing at other officers trying to rescue the wounded deputies, investigators said.
A two-hour standoff ensued, and police finally resorted to a bulletproof military vehicle to collect the wounded before Hopkins surrendered to a negotiator, police said.
Florence Police Sgt. Terrence Carraway died the day of the shooting and Florence County Sheriff’s investigator Farrah Turner was wounded and died several weeks later. Five other officers were injured. Carraway was the first Florence officer to be killed in the line of duty in nearly 30 years, police said.
Florence County Solicitor Ed Clements of the 12th Judicial Circuit declined comment.
The case has been under a gag order, but relatives of the victims and others closely connected to the case were in the courtroom during the guilty plea. On Thursday afternoon, all online information about the case remained sealed.
The case was investigated by Richland County sheriff’s office investigators.
Besides Young, other defense lawyers on the case included Bobby Bank, Patrick McLaughlin and Scott Gaustein.
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