Crime

‘This ain’t a whodunnit’: State details Horry County murder of retired NY cop

Solicitors detail how Tim Buckley was murdered in Horry County

Johnathan Hillary faces a murder trial in Horry County in connection to the killing of Tim Buckley in 2016. Buckley was shot and found in a wooded area of Carolina Forest.
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Johnathan Hillary faces a murder trial in Horry County in connection to the killing of Tim Buckley in 2016. Buckley was shot and found in a wooded area of Carolina Forest.

After having a few drinks, Timothy Buckley was in a vulnerable state. What he didn’t know, according to the state, is that Johnathan Hillary was looking for someone in his condition.

Hillary and a co-defendant needed money, Assistant Solicitor Jonathan Miles said.

“He shoots him in the center of the back and the back of the head, but he’s not done yet,” Miles said. “He doesn’t want to get caught.”

That is when, prosecutors said, Hillary put Buckley in his own truck, drove to a Carolina Forest wooded area and left Buckley. It took more than 40 days to find Buckley’s remains.

Hillary faces trial this week in Horry County for Buckley’s September 2016 murder. The state and defense gave opening statements on Wednesday as the state called its first witnesses, including Buckley’s eldest daughter. Only Hillary faces trial this week. Co-defendant Bernithia Young was charged with accessory to murder and her case is pending.

Miles said Buckley, 51, moved to the Myrtle Beach area in 2011 after retiring after serving 30 years as a police officer in New York. He wanted the slower lifestyle, not to mention the decreased cost of living while raising three daughters, Miles said.

Buckley’s wife also suffered from a terminal illness and died shortly after her husband’s murder, Miles said.

In 2016, Hillary — who Miles made sure never to name — and his co-defendant came to Myrtle Beach from Georgia. They bounced from hotel to hotel and found work through a temp agency, but hadn’t received a paycheck.

“They were in desperate need of some money and they were looking for that vulnerable victim that happened to be a 51-year-old man of a smaller stature that had a few drinks that night,” Miles said.

The defendants met Buckley and shot and killed him, Miles said. Buckley was trying to escape when he was shot in the back, he said. Hillary drove Buckley’s remains to the wooded area. Not done, Hillary then took Buckley’s truck and drove it to Myrtle Beach where the prosecutor said he left it.

“They don’t flee to their hideout in Georgia just yet,” Miles said. “They haven’t been paid yet. They got to pick up that paycheck.”

The defendants were arrogant enough to believe nobody would find Buckley and waited around to pick up their pay before they fled, Miles said.

Kaitlin Buckley, Tim’s oldest daughter, said one of her other sisters called when their dad didn’t pick her up for cheerleading on Sept. 29. Kaitlin called her dad’s phone, and it went to voicemail.

“I automatically knew something was wrong,” Kaitlin Buckley said as she broke down in tears.

As she described that night, some of Buckley’s friends and family that filled one side of the courtroom started to cry. Buckley’s immediate family put their arms around each other as they listened to Kaitlin testify.

Even if Tim was upset, if one of the daughters called, he would answer, Kaitlin Buckley said.

Kaitlin called Tim’s friends and his Horry County employer trying to find him. They checked his favorite hang-outs to no avail. She then reached out to Tim’s friends in New York to see if he took an impromptu trip.

When those efforts failed, she filed a missing person report.

Buckley’s location was unknown for a month and the family made posters to place around the county seeking information. At the same time, the suspect fled back to Georgia where Miles said they committed another robbery. This time they left the victim alive, Miles said.

“It’s not an accident, this is not a self-defense case, this ain’t a whodunnit,” Miles said. “I’m confident by the conclusion of this trial you will find the person guilty of robbing, kidnapping and murdering Tim Buckley.” He then pointed towards Hillary across the courtroom as he raised his voice. “And that person is sitting just right over there.”

Alex Lang is the True Crime reporter for The Sun News covering the legal system and how crime impacts local residents. He says letting residents know if they are safe is a vital role of a newspaper. Alex has covered crime in Detroit, Iowa, New York City, West Virginia and now Horry County.
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