RIDGELAND, SC (Dec. 15, 2023) – The top prosecutor of the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office Special Victims Unit secured three domestic-violence murder convictions against two separate Lowcountry defendants this week.
In both cases, the men killed their spouse or girlfriend.
James Lee Holmes pleaded guilty Tuesday to murder in the shooting deaths of his wife and the couple’s 36-year-old son, attempted murder for firing a weapon at his 16-year-old daughter, and possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a violent crime. The crimes took place July 23, 2022, outside the family’s Green Pond home.
When deputies arrived at Holmes’ home outside Walterboro, they found him with two separate handguns, sitting on the tailgate of his pickup. He told them he had become enraged after loading his work trailer to take items to the county dump, only to run an errand and return home to find the trailer had been unloaded in his absence. He began firing his gun at his family members, killing Deirdre Holmes and Timothy Behling, and narrowly missing his teenage daughter.
Holmes received 30 years for each of the murders, 30 years for the attempted murder and five years on the weapons charge. The sentences are to be served concurrently.
Swanson’s second conviction came Wednesday in Jasper County General Sessions Court.
Simon T. Atkinson of Bluffton, 59, pleaded guilty to gunning down his ex-girlfriend, 42-year-old Vanessa Kelson, outside a Hardeeville home on Nov. 20, 2021. Atkinson also pleaded guilty to possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. He was sentenced to a total of 35 years in prison.
“The defendant learned the victim’s routine, tracked her down and then waited for her to come outside before emptying his gun,” said Hunter Swanson of the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, who prosecuted the case. “His actions were deliberate, escalating and ultimately deadly.”
Shortly after 8 a.m., Kelson came outside the Thomas Street home to move a car in the driveway. Wearing a bathrobe, Kelson was shot at least 15 times. The last shot was to the back of her head. A man inside the home witnessed the shooting and immediately called police.
Later that day, deputies found Atkinson with a gun linked to the killing. His clothing and hands tested positive for gunshot residue, and his cellphone history revealed a search for information about tracking vehicles.
“These verdicts serve justice, but also serve notice; notice to abusers that they will be punished and notice to victims that there is help,” said Solicitor Duffie Stone. “Our office launched a center in 2019 to help victims escape lethal environments like the ones James Lee Holmes and Simon Atkinson created. If you’re in a similar situation, get help today.”
Swanson is the leader of the Solicitor’s Office Special Victims Unit, which is part of the 14th Circuit Victims Services Center. There, community partners provide critical services for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and other crimes against vulnerable people. Help is available to anyone who needs it, even if they are not participating in the investigation or prosecution of a crime. The VSC serves Allendale, Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton and Colleton counties.
“The living family members of these victims were ready to close the chapter on these tragic events and begin to heal in the New Year,” Swanson noted.
Several risk factors have been associated with increased risk of homicides of women and men in violent relationships. To learn more about those specific signs, go to dangerassessment.org.