Man sentenced to die in the killing of Myrtle Beach police officer Joe McGarry

When a jury of eight women and four men returned after four hours of deliberations Saturday night and ordered a Myrtle Beach man to be put to death for killing their son, Joe and Anita McGarry were relieved, they said.

Twelve years and two trials later, the McGarrys once again said justice was served for their only son, Myrtle Beach police officer Joseph McGarry Jr., being shot in the face and killed while questioning Luzenski Cottrell in the parking lot of Dunkin’ Donuts on Kings Highway at 12:30 a.m. Dec. 29, 2002.

“It’s a total relief and I’ve been waiting a long time for justice for Joey,” Anita McGarry said after the trial. “I’m just very, very relieved. He’s a terrible man. He’s a sociopath. We needed justice. He’s a very evil man. He needs to be put to death.”

Circuit Court Judge Larry Hyman ordered Cottrell to be put to death by either lethal injection or the electric chair on Nov. 24.

But an automatic appeal will be filed on Cottrell’s behalf and 15th Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said the entire appeals process could take up to 10 years before the sentence is imposed.

“It was the right decision. It’s always tough for them to consider the death penalty, but if there’s ever a guy who earned, deserves it, it’s Luzenski Cottrell,” Richardson said after the trial.

Cottrell has been named as the person who killed Carolina Forest resident Richard Hartman, a month before McGarry‘s death, Richardson said. Cottrell also is serving a life in prison sentence for the murder of Myrtle Beach resident Jonathon Love in Marion County, which occurred before McGarry’s shooting.

“We went through a heartbreaking disappointment when it was overturned by the [S.C.] Supreme Court. I hope they get the message this is the will of the people for the second time,” Joe McGarry Sr. said after the trial. “I can’t thank the jury enough. It’s nice to see people standing up protecting these police officers out there. God bless [the jurors]. Every day they will be in my prayers and there’s a special place in heaven for them just like the last jury.”

In April 2005, Cottrell was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in the community police officer’s killing. Cottrell appealed the decision and in January 2008 the S.C. Supreme Court overturned his conviction and death sentence. Justice Costa Pleicones stated that the court erred in not giving jurors the option to convict Cottrell of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

To sentence Cottrell to death, jurors found three aggravating circumstances, which included that McGarry was an on-duty police officer on Dec. 29, 2002, when he was killed in the Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot; Cottrell has been previously convicted of murder; and that by his act of murdering McGarry created a hazard to the public in that parking lot, prosecutors said. Jurors only needed to find one aggravating circumstance.

Several jurors were emotional when they returned to the courtroom Saturday night, including at least four who were crying as the judge imposed the death sentence on Cottrell.

Jury selection in the retrial began Sept. 15 and the jury deliberated for nearly three hours Wednesday before they convicted Cottrell of murder. It was a similar amount of time when he was first convicted in the case.

During closing arguments in the penalty phase, Cottrell’s attorney William McGuire asked jurors to spare the 36-year-old’s life and allow him to continue to work on a relationship with his 12-year-old daughter, who was 9 months old at the time of McGarry’s killing.

“We’re going backwards and inflicting more tragedy. I’m standing between him and the date of execution. He’s fine in prison. You don’t have to kill him,” McGuire said. “I’m standing between him and an unnecessary homicide. ... Let God take him when God wants him.”

But 15th Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson told jurors that Cottrell’s propensity for violence and connection to two prior murders has earned him a sentence of death. Richardson also said the only reason Cottrell hasn’t continued to be violent is because he’s in a maximum security jail, confined for 23 hours a day.

“It’s not that Luzenski Cottrell has changed, it’s that his opportunities have changed,” Richardson said. “Has he earned life? No. Has he earned death? Yes, in every manner possible.”

On Saturday, jurors also heard McGarry’s fiancée testify about when they met, their first date and their last days together.

The couple’s first date was interrupted when McGarry ran down the beach after someone with a gun as the couple walked after dinner at Pier 14, testified Holly Newman Sinkway.

Through an emotion-filled voice and tears streaming down her face, Sinkway testified that McGarry had proposed to her Christmas Eve morning in 2002 while they were at church. They then went to Dunkin’ Donuts and got refreshments before returning to her parent’s home to celebrate the news with friends and family.

Four days later, Sinkway said she would be planning to attend the 28-year-old’s funeral.

“I went through being as happy as you can possibly be then everything went completely opposite,” Sinkway said. “I went from wearing white to black for a funeral and ordering flowers for a funeral instead of a wedding.”

Joesph McGarry Sr., paused, turned and stared at Cottrell before he took a seat on the witness stand and testified he always hugged and kissed his son when they parted ways. McGarry’s parents still live in Rhode Island where the street crimes police officer was raised.

“It has been devastating. I’ll never be the same. My wife has been even worse,” he testified Saturday.

The last time the McGarrys saw their only son was at Thanksgiving that year when they came down for a visit. Anita McGarry testified as the couple left Myrtle Beach, she realized she forgot her sunglasses, so they quickly turned around to retrieve them.

“I looked at him and I said ‘I love you so much, I’m so proud of you’ and I never saw him again. That was the last time I saw him,” she said, her voice full of emotion and wiping tears from her eyes.

She told jurors her father, who had served in the military, died when McGarry was an 11-year-old boy and he told her he wanted a flag just like his grandfather’s draped over his casket when he died.

“I said you have to be in the service to have it,” Anita McGarry said crying. “But he had a flag on his casket.”

During the defense portion of the penalty phase, high school friends of Cottrell testified he was a polite, humble young man who grew up with a father in the military, his mom, a younger sister and older brother.

“I don’t know what happened. ... The person I know is very humble, very caring, very respectful,” testified Lorenzo Santiago, a high school friend.

News of Cottrell’s crimes was “very out of character to me,” he said.

Marvin Warren, who also attended high school with Cottrell in New York, testified he saw a change in Cottrell after he became friends with Fred Halcomb. Warren also declined an invitation in 2000 to move to Myrtle Beach with then 22-year-old Cottrell.

“I knew Fred was somewhere around and trouble seemed to follow Fred everywhere,” Warren testified. “I could not believe it [news of Cottrell’s arrests and crimes]. That’s not the Allen I knew.”

Cottrell and Halcomb were each convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the November 2002 shooting death of Myrtle Beach resident Michael Jonathan Love in Marion County. Jurors had heard about how Love dug his own grave before being shot four times, including once between the eyes, by Cottrell.

Correctional officers testified that since Nov. 4, 2003, when Cottrell was committed to a maximum security jail, he has not caused any problems for officers. Cottrell is confined to his cell alone.

A jail minister testified that in May 2013, he baptized Cottrell during a ceremony at the jail.

“We are all fallen and we all need forgiveness,” Brian W. Gill testified when defense attorneys asked if he wanted mercy for Cottrell from jurors.