If someday a court finds that William "Junior" Downs' murder conviction and death sentence in South Carolina should be thrown out, his guilty plea in Richmond County Superior Court on Monday should ensure he never has a chance to rape and murder another child.
Mr. Downs pleaded guilty to murder, kidnapping, aggravated sodomy and necrophilia for the March 13, 1991, assault and killing of 10-year-old James Porter.
In a plea negotiation accepted by Judge Carl C. Brown Jr., Mr. Downs, 38, will serve consecutive prison sentences of life without parole, two regular life sentences and 10 years. If he ever challenges the plea or sentence on appeal, the deal would be rescinded and he would once again face a possible death sentence in James' murder.
James' body was found in the Savannah River two months after he disappeared on his way to the store to buy milk for his baby sister, according to prior reports in The Augusta Chronicle.
While his mother disputed the finding, James' death was ruled an accidental drowning and the sheriff's file on his disappearance was closed. It was reopened in April 1999 when another little boy disappeared.
On April 17, 1999, in a North Augusta park, 6-year-old Keenan O'Mailia encountered Mr. Downs. The child's body was found just outside Riverview Park.
After Mr. Downs was arrested in connection with Keenan's murder, he confessed to that crime and later admitted that he had also killed James years earlier, The Chronicle has reported.
He was indicted on capital murder charges in each state.
Mr. Downs pleaded guilty to the charges filed against him in Keenan's case, and in June 2002 he was sentenced to death in South Carolina.
In Augusta, District Attorney Danny Craig opted to press on with the Georgia capital murder case against Mr. Downs. He said it is important for the Augusta community and for James' family to have the child's murderer held accountable, too.
Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.