Death Row Inmates of Lexington County

Back in the 70's when the Death Penalty was reinstated Lexington County was the first, in the state, to sentence anyone. Here are some of the cases that I worked, the inmates and how they got there.

Larry Gene Bell is the cream of the crop of all evil. In the summer of 1985 a 17 year old female was returning home from a pool party. She was to graduate from High School in two weeks, But never made it. Sherry Smith lived about three mile out of Lexington in a house that sat some distance from the main road. She stopped at the mailbox to get the mail. Her parents looked out the window and saw her car sitting there with the door open but didn't see Sherry. They went to see what was going on and found that Sherry wasn't anywhere to be found. I was a Road Supervisor during this time and was working this day. In the early morning a plane had crashed in Lake Murray. We had just started our Dive Team, so The Team decided that they wanted some practice and started removing the Plane from the Lake. Everything went well and the plane was removed. I went back to the office and my Sgt. came and told me that we may have a Kidnapping. We both went to the house and started a search around the house, but found nothing. Night time came and the next morning we started again and worked a 2 mile area around the house. We found nothing, but then the family got a phone call from a subject telling them that he had Sherry. In Lexington County you have three Phone Companies so tracking a call can take sometime. The phone calls came regularly , but the suspect knew how long he could stay on the line. We missed him one night only by a few seconds. Taking this female wasn't enough so he went too a trailer park in Richland County and took a 9 year old. He then called to tell us where the body was. His call were still coming in and then he told the family that Sherry was dead and that he had given her a chose of the way she wanted to die. You know what this did to the family. Sherry had a older sister and then he started telling them that he was going to get her too. The suspect then called and told us where Sherry's body was and we found her in the next county. Then one day in the mail came a letter from Sherry, her last will. The family said that it was Sherry's handwriting. The letter was send to the lab to be checked for prints or other item. This was the break that we had been waiting on. When they looked at the letter they could tell that the sheet before this one someone had written down a phone number. The number was lifted and a call was made to it. This number was to a person in ALA, whose family lived in SC. It was found out that his parents lived in the county where Sherry's body was found, and that they were on a 3 month trip over sea. They had left their home in the care of Larry Gene Bell, who had worked for them at one time, while they were away. A check of Bell's record showed that he had been charged with assaults again women before. An arrest warrant was obtained and as he was leaving his home one morning he was arrested. The case was tried and he was found guilty and sentenced to Death. We retried the case a second time and again he was found guilty and sentenced to Death for the two murders. On October 4, 1996 Larry Gene Bell was electrocuted. The only good that came out of this was that it brought the community & law enforcement together. The community gave us the support that you need in a case like this and all the agencies worked together, SLED, Highway Patrol, Wildlife, FBI and all the local departments in the county. Some years after this CBS made a TV movie about this case, "Nightmare in Columbia County". The movie was close to the events, but a lot of Hollywood was added. I hope that no community has a person like Larry Gene Bell.

J. D. Gleaton (top) and Larry Gilbert (bottom), cousins, decided one day to rob a service station. They chose a station located in South Congaree, S. C. and during the robbery the owner was killed. The owner put up a fight and the two only got about $3.00. This was the first Death Penalty case. Through all of the appeals, the case has been retried twice and each time the jury has found them guilty. Their last appeal sat on a Federal Judge's desk 16 years before he ruled on it. He wanted the case tried again. The state appealed to the 4th Court of Appeals and they ruled in the state's favor, that's a change. If nothing happens, both of them will be executed on 12-4-98.


Gary Terry was a neighbor of his victim at one time. One night after smoking crack he decided to make a visit to see her. The victim was a mid-40's Asian female that lived alone. She had been married to a guy that I went to High School with and her two children were grown and had moved out. When Gary got to her house in the early morning hours, the first thing he did was pull the phone wire loose from the outside. He then went in the carport and used something to break out a pane in the carport door to gain entry. It appeared that the victim was in bed and had been awakened by the noise of the broken glass. She got up and had gotten to the end of the hallway at the living room, when she was met by Terry. He beat her with a metal pipe until she fell to the floor. Blood splatter on the base board and wall indicated that she was continuously beaten after she was on the floor, until she died. After she was dead Terry then sexually assaulted her, vaginally and anally. When Terry became a suspect, one of my Detectives and I went to see him at his home in Winnsboro, S. C. We talked to him about the case and then asked if we could draw some blood and other body samples. He consented and all samples were taken and sent to SLED. I guess that he didn't know how DNA testing worked. When we got the results, it was his DNA that matched to the unknown collected from the victim. Went we arrested him Major case prints were taken and a print that was found on the phone box matched his. I hope that no one else has a former neighbor like Gary Terry.

Johnny Bennett is a big man and solid as a rock. I don't know why  Johnny Bennett killed a young man, but I'm sure it had to do with drugs. Johnny had gotten a ride with this young man, who weighed125 lbs. soaking wet, and sometime during the day Johnny killed him. He took his car and his payroll money. This didn't bother Johnny because he was driving around town in the dead man's car after his family had reported him missing. When we arrested Johnny, he took us to where the body was, behind his sister's house. The body was placed beside a large log and covered with old boards and leaves. He had died from trauma to the head, a Phillips screwdriver. The screwdriver had been driven into his head just about to the handle. That takes a lot of power to do that.

Norman Starnes as a kid was a fairly good kid. He grow up in Cayce, S. C. and then moved to a little town called Pelion. He owned a restaurant there and when we worked cases in that area we would stop and eat. The food was pretty good. Norman then got involved in drugs and his life changed. Norman got to Death Row for killing two men. These two were first reported to the Sheriff's Dept. as being missing. One of the local TV stations went to Pelion and did a story about them. One of the people that they interviewed was Norman Starnes. He pleaded for anyone that had any information about their disappearance to contact the Sheriff's Dept. During that interview Norman knew the whole time where those men were at, cause he had put them there. His luck ran out when he threatened to kill his girlfriend, that's when she came to us. The night that the two turned up missing, they had been at a local watering hole shooting pool. They left that night and no one saw them again, except Norman. The two men ended up at Norman's house were he shot both of them. He went and got a friend to help him take the bodies to a Uncle's house that lived in the next county. He buried them and after some time his uncle called him and told him that he had to move them because the odor was getting too strong. Norman went back there and moved them. We arrested Norman after talking to his girlfriend who told us the whole story. We went to the Uncle's house and found the graves of the two missing men. We also found a liquor still that the uncle had on his property. Liquor stills are few now, but when I first stared the department we would get quite a few each year. If Norman had stayed straight the business that he had would have taken care of him for a long time.