An Orangeburg man was sentenced Wednesday to 20 years in prison for using a cellphone to help arrange a hit on a state corrections officer four years ago.
A federal judge handed the maximum sentence to 30-year-old Sean Echols after Echols pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to arrange a murder-for-hire. Echols’ sentence will begin after he finishes the 15 years he is currently serving for armed robbery and assault.
Capt. Robert Johnson, an officer in charge of confiscated illegal cell phones and other contraband at Lee Correctional Institute, was shot six times outside his Sumter home in March 2010. He survived, but has undergone 17 surgeries and become the face of South Carolina’s struggles to halt illegal phone use in its prisons.
“I’m content with what we were able to get,” Johnson told reporters after the hearing. “I would like to get more, but we couldn’t. So this is what we got. I’m content with it.”
Investigators said the shooting was done in retaliation as a direct result of Captain Johnson’s enforcement of contraband rules, including foiling several attempts to smuggle phones into the prison. Prosecutors say several inmates plotted to retaliate against Captain Johnson, so the contraband shipments would no longer be disrupted.
Echols was out of prison at the time, but investigators say he was in contact with another inmate inside the prison (who has not been named by authorities). Cell phone records linked Echols in the murder-for-hire plot and prosecutors say the mastermind inmate mailed a payment to the Orangeburg native.
Johnson told reporters that he thought he recognized the man who confronted him as a former inmate, but added his testimony would not have been considered reliable because he could not remember what happened.
Echols apologized to Johnson in court. The former officer said afterwards he forgave him, but added he was not sure Echols’ apology was sincere.
Johnson said he believes God wanted him to forgive his assailants.