BEAUFORT, SC (December 12, 2018) – A 31-year-old Hampton County man suspected of rape in two other states has been found guilty of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and first-degree burglary for assaulting a Bluffton woman in her home.
Lance Rontavis Elam of Tarboro, S.C., was found guilty Wednesday in Beaufort County General Sessions Court by a jury of eight men and four women. Elam was sentenced to life in prison.
The victim was too distraught to testify. However, Hunter Swanson of the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office swayed the jury with DNA evidence and testimony from 10 witnesses during the two-day trial.
“The victim doesn’t have to testify,” Swanson told the jury in her closing argument. “It’s just rare that we have a strong enough case to go forward without her testimony.”
Elam’s previous record included only traffic offenses. However, the DNA collected after his arrest by the Bluffton Police Department connects him to sexual assaults and burglaries in Texas and the Charlotte, N.C., area, where 23 warrants for his arrest have been issued.
“A predator is off the streets,” Swanson said. “This attack was terribly traumatic to the victim. She was assaulted in her own home by a man she had never met before.
“Fortunately, her family and law enforcement took quick action, and we were able to ensure Lance Elam won’t be preying on women again.”
Elam was apprehended shortly after the attack on April 28, 2017, when two relatives of the victim tracked her iPhone to the parking lot of the U.S. Post Office in Bluffton. Elam had pulled over there with a flat tire. The relatives called 9-1-1- when they saw Elam remove bedding from the cab of the white pickup truck he was driving.
Earlier that evening, Elam selected the victim’s house, parked the truck nearby, then hopped a fence to stake out the residence. He told investigators that he stood for a while in her open garage, then went to the back of the home, searching for an unlocked window. Finding one, he climbed through, then stood silently in the home for a few minutes to ensure there were no other people and no dogs inside.
Elam then made his way down a hallway to the victim’s bedroom. Startled by a creak in the floor, the woman awoke. Elam told investigators that he jumped on the bed “like an animal.”
After sexually assaulting the woman, Elam forced her to bathe. Before making his getaway, he collected the bed sheets, the underwear the woman had been wearing, her cellphone and a watch set.
Bluffton police found all of the items taken from the victim’s home in the truck. DNA collected in the victim’s rape kit matched Elam, and traces of the victim’s DNA were detected on Elam’s hands.
Elam provided a recorded confession to Bluffton investigators, but in court he changed his story. He contended that he and the victim had a monthlong, consensual affair.
“Of course, he had a year and a half to work on that story,” Swanson said. “Fortunately, he gave such a detailed account of the rape during his confession that the jury was able to see through the story he made up on the stand.”
Circuit Court Judge Carmen T. Mullen sentenced Elam to 30 years on the criminal sexual conduct charge, the maximum for that offense, and life in prison for the burglary.
Swanson leads the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office Special Victims Unit, which prosecutes cases involving domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and other crimes against vulnerable populations. Swanson has earned convictions in all seven cases she has prosecuted since the SVU was formed in December 2017.