AIKEN, S.C. (AP) — A 79-year-old South Carolina man avoided a possible death sentence Thursday by agreeing to plead guilty to ambushing police officers coming to his home, killing two of the officers and wounding five others.
Frederick Hopkins court appearance was unannounced and reporters following the widely publicized case were not in the courtroom in Aiken County, some 120 miles (169 kilometers) from where the October 2018 attack took place.
Hopkins was charged with two counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder.
Hopkins will be sentenced later, but his attorney Boyd Young told media outlets after the hearing that prosecutors agreed to take the death penalty off the table. Hopkins would face 30 years to life in prison for murder.
Three Florence County deputies told Hopkins they were coming to his home in an upscale subdivision to execute a search warrant against his son for possible sexual abuse charges.
Hopkins, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, armed himself in an upstairs window and fired at the deputies as they got out of their car. He kept shooting as more officers rushed to the scene to save their comrades.
So many rounds were fired with such powerful weapons that it took up to 30 minutes to get an armored vehicle close enough to rescue the wounded officers. He used three firearms in the ambush, and more than 100 guns were found in his home.
Florence Police Sgt. Terrence Carraway died the day of the shooting and Florence County Sheriff’s deputy Farrah Turner died nearly three weeks later from her wounds.
The son, 33-year-old Seth Hopkins, pleaded guilty in 2019 to second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor and is serving 20 years in prison.
Frederick Hopkins’ lawyers, prosecutors and the judge have kept much of the case away from reporters. In June, they all agreed to close the courtroom from the media and the public during pre-trial hearings and kept all motions and records off South Carolina’s public court records site.
When cameras have been at Hopkins hearings, his behavior has been erratic. A disbarred attorney, Hopkins called prosecutor Ed Clements “Fat Eddie” several times during a hearing where the prosecution announced they would seek the death penalty and Hopkins did not have a lawyer present.
In a later hearing, Hopkins was in a wheelchair and had a device to help him hear the proceedings.