Life Sentences For Folly Beach Victims' Families

Life Sentences For Folly Beach Victims' Families

Victims' families continue to fight. Folly Beach murdered denied parole for 19th time.
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Trigger warning: This article contains information about a crime that includes violence, murder, rape and kidnapping.

I had not thought about the events surrounding the gruesome murders and kidnapping of young girls in the small community of Folly Beach for over thirty years. A simple suggestion for a writing assignment brought back memories that have haunted me for several days. I called my “sister” friend to see what she remembered. She, too, had not thought of the Folly Beach Strangler and the teens in as many years. She told me:

“It was so awful. Nobody could believe it. I mean the guy lived at the beach and even had kids. Everybody said he was like a Bible toting Christian, but they found all kind of Satan stuff at his house. And he buried them at the damn beach in the dunes. When me and Jimmy would go to the beach, we stayed away from down that end. We would go up near the pier instead. Gives me chills to think about it.”

Melissa Boughton Jul 19, 2016 Post and Courier:

A state parole board on Wednesday denied convicted murderer Richard Valenti’s 19th bid for parole.

Valenti, now 73, is serving two life sentences at Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville. He was convicted of killing Sherri Clark, 14, and Alexis Ann Latimer, 13, in 1973. Their bodies were found in two shallow graves on Folly Beach more than 10 months after their disappearance.

Valenti, a former sailor stationed at Charleston Naval Base, forced the teens under his house at gunpoint. He bound and gagged them and made them stand on chairs. He tied ropes around their necks, kicked the chairs away and watched the girls die.

He also was charged with strangling 16-year-old Mary Earline Bunch in 1974 and attacking five other women. Those charges were dropped after he got two life sentences.

After the bodies of the girls had been found buried in the sand dunes, I stopped going to the part of the beach where they were found. After these memories had resurfaced, I felt compelled to return to the beach. I left early Saturday morning, arrived at Folly Beach and turned left on Artic Ave where the murders took place. Hurricanes, rip tides, erosion and expensive beach front homes have changed the landscape of the beach. One single seagull stood watching guard over the sand dunes that once were the tombs for the young girls. A couple, holding hands and laughing, walked by seemingly unaware of the haunting feelings of grief and sadness I was experiencing.

Bill Burr July 14, 2014 ABC News

Richard Valenti is serving two consecutive life sentences for murdering Sherry Clark and two other young girls in 1973. Since the mid-80s, He’s been eligible for parole every two years. Every 24 months Sherry’s mother Janice collected petitions to convince the parole board to deny Valenti’s release. When Janice died in 2003, Paula continued her mother’s mission.

While my friend and I pushed these traumatic memories into the part of the brain that lets us hide the unimaginable, the same is not true for the families of these girls. Every two years, the families must face the trauma again. I haven’t thought of the girls and the gruesome murders in a very long time, but as I stood on the beach, I couldn’t imagine the horror of having to recall those memories every day for more than forty years.

I found the more of the story in a book Palmetto Predators, Monsters Among Us by Mark Jones. It contained many of the details shared in conversations between the locals of Folly Beach and James Island during those months. The book begins the story of Richard Valenti. Jones says, “This story tracks the loss of innocence; not just for the eight victims and their families, but for an entire small community.”

Sherri Clark’s sister, Paula Clark Marion, presented a petition with 8,000 signatures to the parole board Wednesday, according to Pete O’Boyle, a spokesman for the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services.

Valenti became eligible for parole in 1983. At the time of his sentencing, the law required that Valenti serve only 10 years in prison before being eligible for parole on the life sentences. He comes up for parole every two years and will be eligible for a hearing again July 18, 2018 (Boughton).

“I put links on Facebook,” she (Paula) said. “I’ve got a couple of Valenti pages. I’ve got an oppose parole Valenti page.” Paula said she fears that as Valenti gets older, the parole board will see him as less of a threat (Burr).

Our country’s system of justice seems broken in many ways. We have recently discovered that changing a broken system is possible by leveraging our collective voices and supporting organizations such as the ACLU. Perhaps we can change a system that forces families to face a “cruel and unusual punishment” by returning to parole hearing or provide recorded DVD’s, petitions and letters so that convicted individuals will be required to serve the sentences imposed upon them. It won’t be an easy task, but perhaps it is worth the effort.

Cover Image Credit: Post and Courier

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It's Time To Thank Your First Roommate

Not the horror story kind of roommate, but the one that was truly awesome.
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Nostalgic feelings have recently caused me to reflect back on my freshman year of college. No other year of my life has been filled with more ups and downs, and highs and lows, than freshman year. Throughout all of the madness, one factor remained constant: my roommate. It is time to thank her for everything. These are only a few of the many reasons to do so, and this goes for roommates everywhere.

You have been through all the college "firsts" together.

If you think about it, your roommate was there through all of your first college experiences. The first day of orientation, wishing you luck on the first days of classes, the first night out, etc. That is something that can never be changed. You will always look back and think, "I remember my first day of college with ____."

You were even each other's first real college friend.

You were even each other's first real college friend.

Months before move-in day, you were already planning out what freshman year would be like. Whether you previously knew each other, met on Facebook, or arranged to meet in person before making any decisions, you made your first real college friend during that process.

SEE ALSO: 18 Signs You're A Little Too Comfortable With Your Best Friends

The transition from high school to college is not easy, but somehow you made it out on the other side.

It is no secret that transitioning from high school to college is difficult. No matter how excited you were to get away from home, reality hit at some point. Although some people are better at adjusting than others, at the times when you were not, your roommate was there to listen. You helped each other out, and made it through together.

Late night talks were never more real.

Remember the first week when we stayed up talking until 2:00 a.m. every night? Late night talks will never be more real than they were freshman year. There was so much to plan for, figure out, and hope for. Your roommate talked, listened, laughed, and cried right there with you until one of you stopped responding because sleep took over.

You saw each other at your absolute lowest.

It was difficult being away from home. It hurt watching relationships end and losing touch with your hometown friends. It was stressful trying to get in the swing of college level classes. Despite all of the above, your roommate saw, listened, and strengthened you.

...but you also saw each other during your highest highs.

After seeing each other during the lows, seeing each other during the highs was such a great feeling. Getting involved on campus, making new friends, and succeeding in classes are only a few of the many ways you have watched each other grow.

There was so much time to bond before the stresses of college would later take over.

Freshman year was not "easy," but looking back on it, it was more manageable than you thought at the time. College only gets busier the more the years go on, which means less free time. Freshman year you went to lunch, dinner, the gym, class, events, and everything else possible together. You had the chance to be each other's go-to before it got tough.

No matter what, you always bounced back to being inseparable.

Phases of not talking or seeing each other because of business and stress would come and go. Even though you physically grew apart, you did not grow apart as friends. When one of you was in a funk, as soon as it was over, you bounced right back. You and your freshman roommate were inseparable.

The "remember that one time, freshman year..." stories never end.

Looking back on freshman year together is one of my favorite times. There are so many stories you have made, which at the time seemed so small, that bring the biggest laughs today. You will always have those stories to share together.

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The unspoken rule that no matter how far apart you grow, you are always there for each other.

It is sad to look back and realize everything that has changed since your freshman year days. You started college with a clean slate, and all you really had was each other. Even though you went separate ways, there is an unspoken rule that you are still always there for each other.

Your old dorm room is now filled with two freshmen trying to make it through their first year. They will never know all the memories that you made in that room, and how it used to be your home. You can only hope that they will have the relationship you had together to reflect on in the years to come.


Cover Image Credit: Katie Ward

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Irish-American History Is Just As Important As Any Other Culture, You Can't Prove Me Wrong

I cherish being Irish and I will not let anyone let me feel bad for that.

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Depending on when you're reading this, Saint Patrick's day has either just passed or is around the corner. For me, Saint Patrick's day is tomorrow. I've been debating this article for some time now because I didn't know how it would be perceived. At this point, though, I feel it's important for me to get out. No, Irish people were never kept as slaves in America, and I will never be one to try and say they were. However, Irish people were treated tremendously awful in America. A lot of people tend to forget, or just try to erase entirely, the history of the Irish in America. So much so that I felt shameful for wanting to celebrate my heritage. Therefore, I want to bring to light the history that everyone brushes under the rug.

In 1845, a potato famine broke out across Ireland. This was a big deal because the Irish lived off, mainly, potatoes. They were cheap, easy to grow, and had tons of nutrients. So when the famine struck, many people either died of starvation or fled to America in seek of refuge. When the Irish arrived in America they were seen as a threat to the decency of America. People viewed them as drunk beasts, sinful savages, barbaric, violent, belligerent, stupid, and white apes. When the Irish would go to look for jobs, many times they found signs that read "Irish Need Not Apply," even when the job was hiring. Therefore, the Irish did the jobs no one wanted, and even jobs African slaves wouldn't do. The biggest example of this is when Irishmen built canals and drained swamps. They were sent to do these things because of the enormous amount of mosquitoes; in the swamp, they would get bit and ultimately die of malaria.

Also, during this time, Irish people were poor and therefore lived in the same neighborhoods as the free African Americans. A lot of the Irish people were friendly with their neighbors of color and even got into interracial relationships. Because the Irish lived in these neighborhoods they were seen as dirty and even a lot of people at this time put African Americans higher on the totem pole than Irish. One person during the time even said, "At least the black families keep their homes clean."

The main reason American's outlook on Irish people changed was that most Irishmen took up fighting for the Union in the Civil War. I make this argument, not because I think the Irish suffered more than African slaves. I don't say this in means of trying to erase the struggles of the African slaves. I do not think that any of our ancestors should have been treated the way they were. I mean to say that the Irish did in fact suffer. Irish people were treated wrongly on the basis of...nothing. Simply because my ancestors hailed from the shores of Eire, they were treated with malice. And I write this simply because I want people to remember. I want people to understand what happened.

On Saint Patrick's Day this year, next year, and for the many years to come, I want people to embrace the Irish culture. I want the folks of Irish heritage to not be ashamed of where they come from; to not be ashamed to share their culture the way I have for many years. I want everyone to have a beer, wear some green, eat a potato or two, and dance the Irish step; to celebrate the history of Irish people with a bit more understanding than before.

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