CONWAY — A Mullins man was ordered to serve four years in prison Tuesday evening after an Horry County jury convicted him in the 2011 death of a 22-year-old man during a birthday party at a home near Coastal Carolina University in Conway.
Christopher Leron Cooper, 24, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the beating death of Kendall Williams, also of Mullins. Circuit Court Judge Steven John ordered Cooper to serve four years in prison. Cooper had faced a murder charge.
“I’m truly, truly sorry. If I could go back I would and take it back. I’m trying to change,” Cooper said after he was convicted. “Since that happened, it changed my life . . . I’ve been doing everything to change my life around.”
With his voice full of emotion, Cooper paused frequently during his brief statement before being sentenced. John also paused during his sentencing and told Cooper he took into consideration all the testimony and evidence presented during the trial.
“It’s just an absolute tragedy all the way around. It is one of those times a person’s single action causes great harm and grief and in this case death,” John said.
A jury of seven men and five women deliberated for nearly two hours before reaching a verdict. The trial began Monday and was the second trial for Cooper, whose first trial late last year ended when the jury could not agree on the verdict.
Williams, 22, of Mullins died April 10, 2011, after he was punched and kicked by Cooper while at his cousin, Kelli Williams’ home on Chanticleer Village Drive, according to authorities.
Williams’ sister, Taka Perry, said she named her baby daughter after him and was sadden the baby will never know the “well-rounded,” “kind and humble” man.
“He was not a violent person in any sense of the word. He truly showed us how to turn the other cheek,” Perry said. “He genuinely loved life. Our family has lost a very special person that can never be replaced.”
Prosecutors told jurors that Cooper had never liked Kendall Williams and used the birthday gathering for Williams’ cousin as an opportunity to take out his aggression on the man, who was gay. The men attended high school together in Mullins.
Cooper “bullied [Williams], he picked on him and he would find any opportunity to make Kendall Williams know just how different he was,” said 15th Circuit Senor Solicitor Donna Elder. “Christopher Cooper told him ‘you thought I forgot, I told you I was going to get you,’ and get him he did.”
Williams was sleeping on a couch in his cousin’s apartment when Cooper attacked him, Elder said.
But Cooper’s attorney, Fran Humphries, told jurors that Williams’ death is tragic, but a fatal heart condition resulted in his death and not the attack, which was unprovoked.
“Because his condition was so fragile and nobody knew it, that assault brought on sudden arrhythmia and Kendall Williams expired,” Humphries said. “Chris acted in the poorest manner . . . there’s no justification for his assaulting Kendall, none whatsoever.”
At the time of Williams’ death, Horry County police said when officers arrived about 4:15 a.m. April 10, 2011, they found Williams in the house and he was unconscious and not breathing. Williams died about an hour later while being treated at Conway Medical Center.
Kelli Williams testified Monday that Cooper attended the party with another invited guest and he attacked Williams after another couple had been ushered out of the apartment following an argument.
“It was like he was about to leave and he turns and just hits Kendall,” she said. “My cousin was in a fetal position and Chris was just kicking him and kicking him and kicking him. . . . It was like he was in a rage or a whole other zone. It was like he was intending to do this the whole entire time.”
Witnesses said another man stopped the assault and Cooper left the apartment, but Kendall Williams had trouble breathing and then went unconscious before police and EMS arrived.
Contact TONYA ROOT at 444-1723 or follow her at Twitter.com/tonyaroot.