A judge has sentenced a man who drove his car into a group gathered near a gravesite last year to 80 years in prison.
66-year-old James Kester received the sentence last week after a jury found him guilty of eight assault-and-battery charges. The State newspaper reports the jury acquitted him of attempted murder counts, however. 12 people were injured in the attack.
Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman sentenced Kester to the maximum ten years for each count, to be served consecutively.
Kester told a bond judge after his July 2017 arrest that he attacked the funeral attendees because he was displeased the person they were honoring was a former employee at the South Carolina Department of Mental Health (DMH). Kester said the agency would not allow him to see his daughter for nearly two years during her treatment. Kester said he read about the deceased’s obituary, which noted her former job as an administrative assistant at the agency and tracked down the burial at Greenlawn Memorial Park in Columbia.
Police do not believe Kester personally knew the employee or her family and only targeted the service because of her job. While the employee’s name was mentioned in court proceedings, South Carolina Radio Network has chosen not to identify her, since some of her surviving relatives were among the victims. According to The State, several testified they feared Kester could come after them again if he were released.