18 years on death row: The shootings

(Columbia) November 13, 2006 - The death penalty has been a hot button issue, but this case is a little bit different.

News 10's Kara Gormley says it has been one of the most difficult stories she's worked on, not only because of the subject matter, but because when you ask, people just don't want to talk about it.

In some of the recent school shootings that we've seen on television, people have forgiven and forgotten. That's not the case in Greenwood.

Jamie Wilson is set to die in the electric chair. On death row for 18 years, his story is the subject of a documentary. Here's an excerpt:

Documentarian: "Jamie...do you know why you are here?"
Jamie Wilson: "Yeah."
Documentarian: "Why are you in here?"
Wilson: "I committed some murders."
Documentarian: "What?"
Wilson: "I killed some people."

It was 1988 in Greenwood.

Wilson: "I got arrested."
Documentarian: "What were you arrested for?"
Wilson: "I don't want to talk about it."

Jamie Wilson doesn't want to talk about what happened at Oakland Elementary, an ordinary, small town school where kids smiled for all of those class pictures, and met the best friends they ever had - the kind you make when you're seven or eight.

Innocence shattered on September 26th when Jamie Wilson entered the school with a gun.

"I just remember him opening fire and just chaos," said Leah Holmes. She and Brandi McDaniel Beard were in the third grade back then, both of them were just eight years old.

"It never occurred to me that this guy had come into our school and shot our friends, shot our teachers," said Brandi.

Jamie Wilson was 19 when he walked into the cafeteria. About 100 first graders were eating lunch when he opened fire.

Matt Turner was one of them. He remembers eating 'sloppy joes' that day, but that's not all.

"The first thing I thought was this is a drill, like a fire alarm but with a gun or something. But everybody took off out the door, out the back of the cafeteria," Matt recalled.

He says most of his seven-year-old memories are blurry, but Matt's mom remembers the school shooting like it was yesterday.

"I remember him saying 'I think he was shooting at the children who were screaming the loudest. So I didn't say anything. I just threw my lunch tray.'"

Matt threw his lunch tray at Jamie. A heroic action, or just a scared little kid?

Matt says, "I don't know if I threw it at him, or was just excited to go."

A teacher and two students were wounded with those first nine bullets. In an act of heroism, a PE teacher tried to stop him. He shot her, then Jamie entered Mrs. Higginbotham's third grade classroom and fired the remaining shots. One of them hit Leah Holmes.

"All I remember is just shooting and I remember feeling a tickle on my arm. I didn't really feel a whole lot of pain, but I remember feeling a tickle on my arm and I didn't even look at it - I just grabbed it and ran," she recalled.

Leah says she and her classmate, Shequila Bradley, ran to the nurses station. Brandi was already there when they arrived. Eight-year-old Shequila was severely injured.

"From that point on, the only memories I have from that day is watching her sit in a chair in the corner literally bleeding to death."

Leah said, "She was just bleeding so much. They had to move her from the chair to the floor. They had me help her get onto the floor - basically sit down with her while she died."

Eight-year-old Tequila Thomas was also hit. She lived three days before dying from her wounds.

Two children in Mrs. Higginbotham's class - gone.

Brandi, now a mother with a child at Oakland, can't imagine what it must have been like for the little girls' parents.

"I can't comprehend what they went through. They dropped off their children that day, or put them on the bus, and they don't have them anymore."

Another mother was stuck in traffic near the school that day.

Jamie's mom said, "I couldn't begin to comprehend who could do something...who would hurt children and it just broke my heart."

Shirley Bordner was on her way to work, "I had no idea that it was my son."

Shirley is Jamie Wilson's mother, "We go to the mailbox and bring in the paper and on the headlines it says 'why can't they just kill him?' In big print it says 'why can't they just kill him'...but if it was their son..."

"To me, no sympathy. No sympathy. I understand he has a mother and I'm sorry for her, but those children had parents too."

Jamie's future is the subject of debate. It always has been. If he is put to death, Wilson's lawyers contend South Carolina will be the first state in the nation to execute someone whose mental illness is so severe, a judge ruled he could not conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.

Attorney John Blume says, "But put in laymen's terms, the best way to understand it is because of his mental illness he couldn't help what he did."

Bud Von Dohlen bears witness to Jamie's illness, "I don't think he knows why he did what he did. He told me he was looking for love, and he also mentioned one time there was a goat in the back seat telling him what to do."

Documentarian, "Do you know what your current mental illness is?"
Jamie Wilson, "Schizophrenia."
Documentarian: "Do you know what that means?
Wilson: "No."

The hearing to decide if Jamie Wilson is mentally competent to be executed could happen anytime now.

Some feel Jamie is a victim, too. A victim of his mental illness.

Reported by Kara Gormley

Posted 5:52pm by Chantelle Janelle