HORRY COUNTY, S.C. WMBF) – A man serving time after being convicted in the murder of a Conway High School student over three decades ago could be considered for parole next month.
In 1991, the body of 17-year-old Crystal Faye Todd was found in an Horry County ditch. Authorities determined she had been raped and stabbed numerous times.
DNA evidence later led them to the person many say Todd called a close friend: Johnnie “Ken” Register.
Greg McCollum, managing partner for Complete Legal Defense Team in Myrtle Beach, was on the prosecution team as an assistant solicitor during the case. On Wednesday, he recalled how much it impacted the community.
“Several people were suspected in the murder,” he said. “It was such a horrific crime that certainly people never expect somebody locally. You would not suspect this young kid, Register, who grew up in the neighborhood. He was neighbors with Todd and they were friends and he knew her mother. He was actually a pallbearer at her funeral. “
In 1993, Register was convicted by a jury on several charges, including murder, which carries a life sentence. According to McCollum, it’s also considered the first DNA criminal case that led to a conviction in South Carolina.
Nearly 30 years later, parole officials say Register will be coming up on a hearing next month. It’s leaving some residents like Susan Jeffords upset, who believe he shouldn’t be eligible.
“It was horrendous the things he did to Crystal,” said Jeffords. “We all had locked our doors because it took a while for them to figure out who had killed Crystal.”
Jeffords is close friends with Todd’s first cousin and use to work with her aunt. She also said this case is close to heart, because of what Todd’s mother, Bonnie Faye Todd, went through before she passed away in 2014.
“It was very scary because number one, I had an 11-year-old daughter and God forbid if something like this was to ever happen to my child. Just like Crystal’s mother, she only had one child and that was Crystal. I only have one child, my daughter,” Jeffords said.
She said Todd’s cousin recently received a letter notifying them of Register’s upcoming parole hearing.
Jeffords then started an online petition for family members to bring to the parole hearing as a way to try to keep Register behind bars. So far, it has over 2,000 signatures.
“It was just shocking because when someone is given a life sentence we expect them to be there the rest of their lives,” Jeffords said.
McCollum said when Register was arrested and tried, the law was applied so that a person had to serve at least 30 years of that type of sentence before they were eligible for parole.
However, he explained parole in a case like this is denied more often than not at the first hearing.
“In just normal cases, statistically, they don’t parole most people the first time regardless,” he said. “I think the denial rate is around 90%. So in a case like this, where someone’s been convicted of a murder the parole board is probably, and I can’t speak for them, is maybe hesitant to release somebody like that.”
Register is being held at the Broad River Correctional Institution in Columbia, with his parole hearing scheduled to take place on Feb. 9.
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