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PAGELAND – Gary Miles avoided a death sentence, but will spend the most of the next 30 years in prison for the death of a man whose body was found dumped near Heath Springs in 2006.
Miles, 24, of Pageland, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter during a July 2 hearing in Chesterfield County.
Miles also pleaded guilty to malicious injury to property under $1,000 for kicking out a windshield after Chesterfield County deputies arrested him Oct. 18, 2006.
Miles was charged with the September 2006 death of Dennis Clanton, 43, an epileptic who was beaten after being offered a ride from Pageland.
Clanton was drowned in a pond off S.C. 207 before his body was dumped in Lancaster County.
Judge Steven John sentenced Miles to the maximum of 30 years in prison.
By law, Miles will have to serve 85 percent of his sentence before he is eligible for parole, John said.
Miles, who entered the courtroom wearing shackles in a wheelchair, stood before court officials and the parents and sister of Clanton.
"I don't understand how something like this could happen. (I'm) not here to judge this man but pray for him that God would have mercy on his soul," said Clanton's sister, Shirley Clanton.
Miles said he regretted what he did.
"I really am sorry for everything that happened that night. If I could change it over, I would," he said. "I can't. Every night I think about it. I have to live with this and face the consequences for my actions. I apologize for what happened that night."
Brian Faulk, 34, and Angela Baker, 29, both of Pageland, were also charged in connection with the murder.
Faulk is charged with accessory after the fact and is accused of being with Miles the night Clanton was killed.
Baker is charged with accessory after the fact of murder and is accused of helping Miles and Faulk dump Clanton's body.
Miles' attorney, Steve Wallace, blamed the crime on alcohol.
"If they had not been drinking and kicking up the hills sober, this would not have happened," Wallace said.
Clanton was last seen leaving In & Out Mini-Mart in Pageland with Faulk and Miles, who was driving a 1988 Oldsmobile.
While at the Pageland convenience store, Clanton called his parents.
"I was the last one to talk to him on the phone," said his mother, Beulah Clanton. "He loved me. He told me that I was always there for him when he had seizures."
Clanton primarily lived with his parents but was staying with his sister at the time. He was reported missing Sept. 16, 2006, and his body was discovered six days later.
Assistant 4th Circuit Solicitor J.R. Joyner said Miles beat Clanton while riding around. Clanton was also taken to Miles' home, where inside he was beaten with fists and objects for 30 minutes to an hour, Joyner said.
After his last beating, Joyner said Miles drove Clanton to his employer's land and forced him into a pond.
Clanton's sister, Shirley Clanton, said her brother probably would have gone into seizures during the beating and not been able to defend himself. He received a blow to the head at age 14 that stunted his growth, his sister said.
Miles, the father of three girls under age 5, worked in the pulpwood business.
According to court documents, Miles was physically abused by his mother and repeatedly ran away from home to "get away from his mother and boyfriends" between age 12 and 14.
When he was 15, he began drinking, telling evaluators he would consume a pint of alcohol a day and experienced blackouts.
Documents state that when Miles dropped out of therapy in 1998, he had an unclear diagnosis but was treated for explosive anger and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
While awaiting trial, Miles wrote a five-page letter to his co-defendant, Baker, giving instructions to Baker about her responses in court to play into a plot for a mistrial and avoid incriminating herself.
"Be calm, cool and collective, but show a lot of emotion. Cry. Tears are good. Ya' heard me, Angee, you are going to have to follow my lead," he wrote.
"The letters go a long way to show he's guilty by having him to come up with a lie or an alibi and trying to shift the blame to the other guy," Hodge said. "Without a confession, he could have succeeded with that."
Miles made two escape attempts while awaiting trial. After a second attempt, the Chesterfield County Sheriff's Office, which operates the detention center, relocated Miles to a holding facility in Lee County.
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