Note: This story was last updated at 11:15 a.m. May 11.
CLINTON—An Anderson County man who is facing the death penalty as a possible sentence was found guilty of first-degree murder on Tuesday for killing his uncle in Claxton more than four years ago.
A jury of eight women and four men deliberated for about one hour and 40 minutes before unanimously returning the guilty verdict against Norman Lee Follis Jr., 52, in Anderson County Circuit and Criminal Court in Clinton. Follis was convicted of killing his uncle, Samuel “Sammie” J. Adams, 79, sometime between December 5, 2011, and January 24, 2012.
It was the first death penalty trial in Anderson County since 1991, officials said.
Adams’ body was found hidden underneath an apartment staircase on Patt Lane in Claxton on January 24, 2012, after he was reported missing in December 2011. His decomposing body was buried under at least 10 blankets, and a couch had been shoved up against the door of the closet where Adams was hidden, according to testimony.
Defense attorneys did not dispute that Follis killed his uncle, a Korean War veteran.
“We cannot whitewash that out,” attorney Mart Cizek said.
But they argued that Follis was defending first his girlfriend and then himself after he saw Adams on top of his girlfriend, Tammy Sue Chapman, 47, groping her. Follis tried to get Adams off Chapman, but Adams attacked Follis, the defense said. The two men fell to the floor, the defense said, where Follis grabbed a extension cord to defend himself and force Adams off of him.
“I put it around his neck until he let go of me,” defense attorney Wesley Stone said, recalling Follis’ explanation for the killing.
But prosecutors called it murder, a premeditated killing that profited Follis and Chapman. They said Follis misled family, neighbors, and law enforcement officers about where Adams was that last month—before his body was found in the Patt Lane apartment closet on January 24, 2012—and they cited testimony that Follis sold Adams’ car for $1,000 cash on January 16, 2012.
They characterized Follis’ explanation for the killing—the defense of a third party followed by self-defense—as a story that he latched onto and then elaborated upon during an interview with Anderson County Sheriff’s Department Detective Don Scuglia.
Two hours of taped interviews with Scuglia were “full of lies,” said Tony Craighead, deputy district attorney general in the Seventh Judicial District.
“You heard lie after lie after lie,” Assistant DA Emily Abbott told jurors. “He’s making this up as he goes along.”
The sentencing hearing for Follis begins at 8 a.m. Wednesday. The jury will participate in that hearing, and they will weigh aggravating factors submitted by the prosecution against mitigating factors submitted by the defense. If the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors, the jury can choose the death penalty, Craighead said.
Besides first-degree murder, Follis was found guilty on Tuesday of one count of property theft of more than $1,000. Indictments filed in February 2014 alleged that Follis and Chapman obtained a 1997 Mercury Marquis owned by Adams, as well as the keys to his home, without his permission.
An autopsy said Adams died of strangulation. He was bruised on the right side of his neck, and part of his larynx was fractured on the left side.
During closing arguments on Tuesday morning, Stone said Follis hid his uncle’s body in the closet because he was scared and didn’t know what else to do.
Abbott called the couch the most damning piece of evidence. It wasn’t clear if the couch was put in front of the closet door to conceal Adams or prevent him from getting out—or possibly both. But the couch showed cool contemplation and not rage, Abbott said.
Chapman has also been charged with first-degree murder. Like Follis, she is facing the death penalty, and an August trial has been scheduled for her.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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