Though suspected serial killer Todd Kohlhepp is in custody — and, according to investigators, has confessed to killing four people — prosecutors' work has only just begun.
U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, the former Spartanburg County solicitor, said Kohlhepp, 45, could face the death penalty, which often means years of hearings and court proceedings.
In a capital case, there has to be no question whatsoever in a jury’s mind that authorities have the right person, Gowdy said.
The case also must have involved a crime that “shocked the conscience of the community,” Gowdy said. Lastly, he said, prosecutors will consult with victims' family members to decide how they want to proceed.
“Sometimes, family members feel very strongly in one direction and other family members may feel very strongly in the other direction,” Gowdy said.
Kohlhepp was charged with kidnapping Nov. 3 after a missing Anderson woman was found alive inside a container on Kohlhepp’s 96-acre Woodruff property.
Later, authorities found the bodies of Charlie David Carver, the woman’s boyfriend, and of married couple Meagan McGraw-Coxie and Johnny Coxie buried in shallow graves on the property.
While in custody, investigators said Kohlhepp confessed to being the gunman behind the 2003 Superbike Motorsports quadruple homicide in Chesnee. He has been charged in those deaths, but not yet in any others.
Gowdy, who was the solicitor when the Superbike murders occurred, said he felt "incredible relief for the family" when he heard about the confession.
“That is the perspective cops and prosecutors have, and everybody else that has been on this journey. I cannot imagine the conversations that (Sheriff Chuck Wright) has had with family members of the four slain at Superbike,” Gowdy said. “At least one of one thousand questions have been answered.”
But there’s more work to be done, Gowdy said.
He said a capital case can be a 20-year process when appeals are factored in.
Nor is a confession a slam-dunk when making a case to a jury, he said.
“It depends on what the confession is. Is there audio? Video? Who took the confession? If there’s not audio or video, then you’ve got a police officer coming into the courtroom and reading a summary of an interview and the jury is going to wonder why they didn’t audiotape it. … Did a defendant write out a confession in his own handwriting or did a law enforcement officer write it?”
Gowdy said things such as DNA, fingerprints, ballistics, hair samples, science and statements that show provable lies carry more weight with a jury.
“If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a hundred times. When a defense attorney gets involved, they may say there wasn’t a confession after all,” Gowdy said.
Gowdy said 7th Circuit Solicitor Barry Barnette, who used to work directly under him, is very familiar with the science and evidentiary sides of prosecution.
“He was so meticulous and so detail-oriented. He was the scientist, always,” Gowdy said. “Barry and Chuck know evidence better than anyone else.”
Seventh Circuit Solicitor’s Office spokesman Murray Glenn said prosecutors are still building the case.
“We’ve got him in jail with no bond. We have time to make sure things are done correctly,” Glenn said.
Tom Lucas, father of Superbike victim Brian Lucas, said the family is relying on prosecutors and law enforcement officials to build a strong case.
“We believe Spartanburg has the right guy, and we’re going to let it all come out in the courts,” Tom Lucas said.