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Litchfield Beach murder: Guilty plea brings closure, not justice

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

In a somber black dress, looking pale and weary, Olivia Charney wept as she confronted the man who brutally murdered her mother, Julianne Blakeley of Litchfield Beach, in 2007.

“I hope you see my mother’s face every day,” Charney, 34, told Shane Earl Lawshe in a Georgetown courtroom last week. Her voice cracked with emotion as her brother, Blake Thornton, wrapped his arm around her for support.

Lawshe, 36, of Andrews, Williamsburg County, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on June 24, after he pleaded guilty to a list of crimes including the slaying. In exchange for his plea, the state agreed not to seek the death penalty.

Blakeley’s family was supportive of the plea agreement, said 15th Circuit Solicitor Greg Hembree.

“They were at a point where they wanted to bring it to an end and felt life without parole was adequate,” he said.

But Charney told Lawshe “This is not justice. No court could give you the justice you deserve.”

Blakeley, 63, was found dead in her bed early Sept. 26, 2007, by firefighters responding to a fire at her home on Norris Drive.

But Georgetown County Coroner Kenny Johnson said it was immediately clear the fire wasn’t the cause of her death. Though she had burns on her arms and legs, they weren’t life-threatening.

“Her hair wasn’t even singed,” Johnson said in 2007 after examining the body.

Blakeley appeared to have been getting ready for bed when she was attacked, he said. She was renovating her house and Lawshe was working as one of the contractors. He entered the house after work on the night of the murder, sexually assaulted Blakeley and then killed her, Hembree told the court. She suffered blunt force trauma, as well as multiple stab wounds.

After the murder, Lawshe started several fires in the home, but he didn’t provide ventilation and the fire didn’t do as much damage as it might have.

Lawshe was identified as a suspect early on.

During their investigation, police found Lawshe’s blood and semen in the house. He was apprehended a week after the murder, after being spotted sitting in traffic at the Little River swing bridge by another motorist, who had seen a description of Lawshe and his vehicle on the news.

Lawshe pleaded guilty to murder, arson, criminal sexual conduct, burglary in the first degree, two counts of burglary in the second degree and violation of parole.

Shortly before killing Blakeley, Hembree said Lawshe broke into Sherwin-Williams paint store and Murrells Inlet Veterinary Clinic and stole petty cash.

Lawshe’s plea, sentencing and statements from Charney and Jan Cox, Blakeley’s first cousin, took about an hour and a half. Lawshe said very little during that time. When Judge Benjamin Culbertson asked him if he had anything to say to the court, he said simply “I’m sorry.”

“This is not a day for us to do a lot of talking,” said Tommy Brittain, one of Lawshe’s attorneys.

Lawshe was under the influence of drugs when he killed Blakeley, Brittain said, and he expressed thanks on his client’s behalf for the mercy shown him and “for all those who have chosen to let him live.”

Charney said she has no mercy for Lawshe.

Blakeley was “a courageous soul who fought for her family and herself,” Charney said. “She had earned a time in her life when she could be happy.”

But Lawshe took that away from Blakeley, she said. He deprived her of seeing the marriages of her children and the birth of her first grandson.

“She was thrilled to become a grandmother,” Charney said.

Her mother was not Lawshe’s only victim, she added; those who loved Blakeley were also his victims.

Cox said Lawshe’s actions cost her children their sense of security in the world and tried their faith in God.

About 40 people gathered in the courtroom to hear Lawshe’s sentencing and offer their support to Blakeley’s children.

“I don’t care what happens to [Lawshe],” said Marnie Heck of Litchfield Country Club, a longtime friend of the family. “I’m here for those kids. They’re just amazing children. There are a lot of people in this courtroom who love and support them.”

Charney and Blake Thornton are two of Blakeley’s quadruplets, along with Clay and Katie Thornton. Katie, who lives in Connecticut, was the only one of the siblings not in the courtroom. Hembree said travel difficulties prevented her from arriving in time.

Heck said she’s known “the quads” since she moved to Waccamaw Neck 27 years ago, and thinks of them as her own. She said she believes knowing Lawshe will spend the rest of his life behind bars will give them the closure they need.

“They’ve gone through such trials, but risen to become incredible adults,” Heck said. “I think they want this to be over. They deserve peace.” “From now on, you take from us no more,” Charney told Lawshe.

Cox said she wants Blakeley to be remembered as more than a crime statistic.

“I don’t want her life to be defined by this heinous and senseless crime,” she said.

Cox remembered Blakeley as smart, talented, creative, beautiful, classy and a wonderful teacher. She also had a “wicked sense of humor” and “was possibly the most thoughtful person I’ve ever known,” she said. “She touched and influenced the lives of so many people.”

The devastation of losing Blakeley in such a tragic manner will continue to pain those who loved her for years to come, Cox said.

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