Crime & Courts

‘Coward’ South Carolina Mass Shooter Appeals Sentence

“We expected this to happen.”

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by ANDREW FANCHER and CALLIE LYONS

The disabled marksman and disbarred attorney who ambushed law enforcement officers over five years ago has requested an appeal to his conviction — even though he pleaded guilty to every felony charge tied to the rampage. Prosecutors told FITSNews they weren’t surprised by the notice, which failed to offer any basis as to why it is being sought.

On October 19, 2023, the confessed perpetrator of a calculated mass shooting in Florence, South Carolina was handed the maximum (non-capital) punishment by S.C. circuit court judge Eugene Griffith for murdering two police officers and attempting to murder five more — receiving two life sentences plus 150 years consecutively. He was credited 1,842 days for time served.

While the gunman’s name is Frederick T. Hopkins, Jr., victims referred to the 79-year-old as a “coward” unworthy of infamy or life itself — suggesting he belonged in “the fires of hell” rather than the S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC). For the moment, though, he’s being held at SCDC’s Kirkland Reception and Evaluation Center in Columbia as authorities determine the best placement for him. 

Decades before he was fitted for prison stripes, Hopkins wore a U.S. Army uniform under the 101st Airborne Division. He served multiple tours of duty as an artillery coordinator during the Vietnam War — receiving a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for injuries sustained during an attack on Fire Base Henderson. He purportedly suffered a lengthy battle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following his retirement from the U.S. Army in 1977.

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On October 3, 2018, Hopkins assailed dozens of deputies from the confines of his upscale home in the Vintage Place Community. According to the Florence County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO), their deputies were executing a search warrant on Hopkins’ adult son, Seth David Hopkins, 32, following child sex abuse allegation. The elder Hopkins and his wife, Cheryl Hopkins, had adopted nine children whose ages ranged from toddler to adult at the time.

“He must have fired hundreds of rounds … hundreds,” said FCSO investigator Ben Price during an exclusive interview with FITSNews prior to his victim impact statement at sentencing.

Price was closest to the home when Hopkins opened fire on deputies through his glass patio doors with an assault rifle. He then exchanged gunfire with Price — who unloaded every round from his Glock service pistol before rushing to a nearby tree line. He was pinned down and unarmed for the remainder of the ambush, radioing fellow officers and informing them of alternate routes to 932 Ashton Drive.

FCSO investigator Farrah Turner, 37, was struck unconscious in Hopkins’ front yard and succumbed to her injures over two weeks later. Florence Police Department (FPD) sergeant Terrence Carraway, 57, was later struck in the chest from approximately 300 yards away and died on the scene. Four additional law enforcement officers were injured before the retired soldier ran out of ammunition and surrendered.

For a better understanding of what transpired at the “house of horrors” — and why — click here for our coverage of Hopkin’s sentencing hearing. His abrupt plea came after he accepted a bench trial in exchange for a jury trial to avoid the death penalty — a punishment originally sought by S.C. twelfth circuit solicitor Ed Clements.

THE APPEAL …

According to South Carolina state law, anyone found guilty of a crime is entitled to appeal the court’s decision within ten days of sentencing — including those who plead guilty. However, in order for the appeal to proceed, the defense must state the grounds or basis for the request, such as a legal stipulation or ineffective counsel.

Hopkins’ attorney dispatched his appeal on Oct. 25, 2023 — six days after his widely televised conviction. It was received and filed the following morning and reads, in full: 

“FREDERICK HOPKINS JR. appeals his conviction and the sentences imposed by the Honorable Eugene C. Griffith. On October 12, 2023, the Appellant pled guilty to Two Counts of Murder and Five Counts of Attempted Murder (Indictment No. 2020-GS-21-909). On October 19, 2023, the Appellant received a sentence of two consecutive life sentences plus 150 years.”

The overall success rate for appeals range between 7 percent and 20 percent nationally — according to a 2015 report from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Still, Clements told FITSNews that Hopkins will assuredly die in prison. Remember, he originally sought the death penalty while the case was enshrouded by a suppression or “gag” order for five years.

(Click to View)

Frederick T. Hopkins, Jr. confers with counsel during his sentencing on October 19, 2023. (Andrew Fancher/ FITSNews)

“Everybody appeals when they get this kind of sentence,” Clements said. “I expected this to happen … but at the end of the day, we got a conviction and resolution to this case and we were happy with that.” 

Clements said he believes Hopkins will once again defend his actions and claim FCSO deployed “illegal” tactics to execute its search warrant upon his home. In pre-trial civil filings, Hopkins maintained he was in the mindset of protecting his family while uniformed police officers “stormed” his property — adding it was “his right to stand his ground per the castle doctrine, which dates back to 1215 AD and King John.”

Under state law, South Carolinians are allowed to resist an unlawful arrest — even to the extent of killing an officer — so long as the actions of law enforcement are truly unlawful.

As Hopkins’ appeal takes shape, another form of justice is making its way through court simultaneously. Five civil cases have been filed against the confessed mass shooter in Florence County — two from the families of the slain officers and three from injured officers. The cases have been consolidated for discovery and are scheduled for trial after November 1, 2024, according to a court order dated October 23, 2023.

Count on FITSNews to publish the latest updates from this saga as soon as more information becomes available.

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THE FILING …

(Via: S.C. Twelfth Judicial Circuit)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Andrew Fancher (Travis Bell)

Andrew Fancher is a Lone Star Emmy award-winning journalist from Dallas, Texas. Cut from a bloodline of outlaws and lawmen alike, he was the first of his family to graduate college which was accomplished with honors. Got a story idea or news tip for Andy? Email him directly and connect with him socially across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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2 comments

Wrong Term November 1, 2023 at 5:30 pm

Given Hopkins’ service record, calling him a coward seems well off of the mark. I believe governmental types are just mad that he handed them their collective posteriors. Was what he did wrong? Yes. Was the cause he was defending his family for a noble one. Very unlikely. He did wrong and has been convicted for it, but coward is not a good descriptive of him. People who throw that term around because they dislike someone or their actions often seem unaware of the word’s definition. Increasingly, we see examples of that by local officials in the media. They should do better.

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The Colonel Top fan November 1, 2023 at 10:25 pm

Previous deeds do not a lifetime hero make. Hopkins acts in his ambush of the Florence County Sheriff’s Depart and Police could easily meet the test of “a cowardly act”.

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