Lexington County triple-murder results in life sentences for 2 Columbia men
Jeremy S. Cornish, age 41, of Columbia, and Justin Tyler Hopkins, age 24, of Columbia, have each been sentenced to Life in prison for the murders of three me. The murders occurred during a home invasion in the St. Andrews area of Lexington County in 2019.
This case was prosecuted by Eleventh Circuit Solicitor Rick Hubbard, Deputy Solicitor Suzanne Mayes, and Assistant Solicitor Bruce Norton. The trials of Cornish and Hopkins were conducted during a three week period of Lexington County General Sessions Court in October.
The trial of Cornish began on Monday, Oct 10, and concluded on Friday, Oct. 21 with the jury convicting Cornish on all charges, including Burglary – First Degree and three (3) counts of Murder. The maximum sentence of life imprisonment was imposed by Chief Administrative Judge Debra R. McCaslin on each of the Murder charges. Cornish was sentenced to eighteen years on the Burglary charge.
The trial of Hopkins began immediately after the trial of Cornish. A jury was selected on Monday, October 24th and the trial concluded on Friday, October 28th when the jury convicted Hopkins on all charges, including Burglary – First Degree and three (3) counts of Murder. Once again, Judge McCaslin imposed the maximum sentence of life on each of the Murder charges and a sentence of eighteen years on the Burglary charge.
Prior to sentencing, the Court heard from family members of the three deceased victims. The victims are Branton Booker, age 28; Sheldon Devon Livingston, age 26; and Duwan Williams, age 27, all of Lexington County. Under South Carolina law, Cornish and Hopkins are not eligible for parole and must serve the entirety of their life sentences.
On the morning of December 17, 2019, Hopkins and Cornish traveled from Columbia to the Woodland Village Apartments, located near Bush River Road in Lexington County. They arrived in a white Chevy truck driven by Cornish. Evidence at trial established that Hopkins and Cornish approached the front door at 113 Butternut Lane, the residence belonging to Booker, Livingston, and Williams. When Booker opened the door, evidence established that he was shot twice as Hopkins and Cornish gained entry into the home.
Once inside, the intruders fired multiple rounds at the occupants and began rummaging the home for items to steal. The investigation determined that Livingston and Williams were both shot while they were sleeping. Livingston was shot twelve times and Williams was shot four times. The investigation also confirmed that Williams was shot by two different guns. Firearms analysis conducted by the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) concluded that Williams was shot by two different caliber weapons. A surviving witness inside the home was able to hide in a closet during the shooting rampage, as a bedroom door was kicked open. The witness reported that he heard the voices of two intruders as they searched the home for items of value.
After the intruders fled the scene, the surviving witness called 911 at 10:59 am. Shortly thereafter, nearby residents saw a man matching the description of Hopkins get into a white Chevy truck with dual wheel tires. The truck, driven by Cornish, then sped quickly from the scene.
The Lexington County Sheriff’s Department Major Crimes Unit identified Hopkins as a suspect over the next several days. On the evening of December 21st, 2019, investigators obtained a search warrant for the apartment of Hopkins. While conducting surveillance outside of Hopkins’ residence, investigators saw a white Chevy truck with dual wheel tires drop off Hopkins. A traffic stop of the white Chevy truck confirmed that Cornish was the driver.
Shortly after Cornish’s truck was stopped, investigators saw Hopkins leave his residence with two duffle bags and get into a sedan. A traffic stop of the sedan resulted in the arrest of Hopkins. A search warrant was obtained for the two bags which belonged to Hopkins.
Law enforcement discovered numerous items inside of the bags which directly linked Hopkins to the crime scene and to the murders. Among these items, a bloodstained white T-shirt was found. Ammunition was also located which matched the type and caliber of ammunition found by C.S.I. detectives at the crime scene.
The items from Hopkins’ bags were sent to SLED for analysis. SLED DNA testing determined that blood on Hopkins’ T-shirt belonged to Duwan Williams, one of the murder victims. In addition, a DNA swab collected from a door at the crime scene was consistent with the DNA of Jeremy Cornish.
During the State’s closing argument, 11th Circuit Solicitor Rick Hubbard addressed the presence of (victim) Duwan Williams’ blood on Hopkins’ T-shirt. Hubbard stated, “although Williams couldn’t tell us who shot him, his blood could. His blood speaks to us. His blood says who his killer is. His blood tells us that Hopkins shot him.”
In addition to DNA evidence, a pair of brown work boots were taken from Hopkins’ apartment during a search conducted by law enforcement. Forensic testing determined the boots were consistent with a boot impression left at the crime scene by one of the intruders as he kicked open a bedroom door. The boot was the same size, shape, and tread pattern, and was consistent with the boot impression from the scene. The white T-shirt and the boots also contained the DNA of Hopkins, indicating that he had previously worn the items.
Investigators obtained video surveillance from a local grocery store on St. Andrews Road, near the residence of Hopkins. The video depicted Cornish dropping off Hopkins at the grocery store at 11:10 am, approximately fifteen minutes after the murders. Cornish was driving the same white Chevy truck with dual tires that was described by witnesses following the crime. Hopkins was depicted on video wearing a white T-shirt and brown work boots. These clothing items worn by Hopkins matched the clothing which directly linked him to the murders through SLED forensic analysis.
Following the verdict, 11th Circuit Solicitor Rick Hubbard stated,
“a crime of this nature shocks the conscience of our community. We cannot tolerate violence in our neighborhoods and in our homes. Our office worked diligently to prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law.”
Hubbard further commented, “our hope is that this outcome brings some measure of justice to the victims and their families. We are grateful for the dedication of Sheriff Jay Koon and the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department in solving these murders. We appreciate the instrumental work of the SLED crime lab in their examination of key evidence in this case.”
Hopkins and Cornish have been transported to the S.C. Department of Corrections to begin immediate service of their sentences.