'Let him burn': 2 men sentenced to prison in connection with Aynor man murder case

Pictured left to right: Cheatham and Thomas
Pictured left to right: Cheatham and Thomas

Two men who were involved in torturing and leaving a 68-year-old man to die, setting his home on fire, will spend decades behind bars for their roles in his murder.

Mitchel Douglas Cheatham, 23, of Council, N.C., pleaded guilty to murdering Charles Bryant “CB” Smith and Douglas Deshawn Thomas, 25, of Elgin, pleaded guilty to burglarizing Smith's home, according to a release from the 15th Circuit Solicitor's Office.

Circuit Court Judge Steven H. John sentenced both men to prison Thursday. Cheatham was sentenced to 30 years in prison and was given credit for the time he has served since his arrest on Jan. 9, 2016.

Thomas will spend 20 years behind bars, the release says.

Senior Assistant Solicitor Lauree Richardson and Assistant Solicitor Tom Terrell prosecuted the case.

The murder

On the morning of April 29, 2014, Cheatham, Thomas and 24-year-old Tommy Lee Benton used a crowbar to break into Smith's home at 4605 Highway 501 in Aynor, The Sun News previously reported. They broke into his home in search of $100,000 he was rumored to have hidden somewhere.

In December 2017, an Horry County jury found Benton guilty of murder, burglary and arson. He was ordered to serve the remainder of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.

During Benton's trial, Cheatham told the court all three of them entered Smith's house with a "crime bag" which contained latex gloves, rope, handcuffs and masks. A gas can was also inside a truck that sat outside.

After they were inside, Cheatham said he heard Thomas tell Smith to drop his gun so they rushed into the living room.

“Mr. Smith was on the couch and Tommy was on top of Mr. Smith,” Cheatham said in December. “I could hear that Mr. Smith was being hit with something.”

Smith was handcuffed, tied, interrogated and beaten with a crowbar.

Cheatham explained how Smith was being uncooperative as they interrogated him about the money and that he gave them false tips that led them in different directions.

He then said Benton poured gasoline throughout the house and also on Smith.

“I said we should shoot him because I didn’t want to burn him alive,” Cheatham said during his December testimony.

But he said Thomas told him to “let him burn.”

Cheatham lit a T-shirt on fire and threw it in the house as they were leaving from the back door, but the fire didn’t catch until Benton poured more gasoline, he told the court.

According to testimony, Cheatham, Thomas, and Benton "terrorized" Smith over a span of 11 days before he was burned alive.

Michaela Broyles: 843-626-0281, @MichaelaBroyles