Academy Sports is paying $2.5 million to families of a serial killer's victims for illegal gun sales
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A sporting goods chain is paying the families of three people shot to death by a South Carolina serial killer $2.5 million after one of its stores sold guns to a straw buyer who gave them to the killer, a felon who couldn't legally buy the weapons.
At times, Todd Kohlhepp stood near the buyer, picking out guns at Academy Sports Outdoors to be purchased for him, the families said in a lawsuit that led to the settlement.
Academy Sports asked that the amount of the settlement be kept confidential because it could encourage other lawsuits, but a judge ruled it didn't make much of a difference because the case had attracted so much publicity already, and that the public had a right to know how it turned out. The estates of the victims will split the settlement.
Kohlhepp pleaded guilty in 2017 to killing seven people — three on his property in Spartanburg County and four others about 12 years earlier at a motorcycle shop. In between the killings, he ran a real estate business. He is serving life without parole.
Before the shootings, Kohlhepp had been barred from having guns because he was a convicted felon. He moved to South Carolina in 2001 shortly after spending 14 years in prison on a kidnapping conviction in Arizona. Authorities there said the then-15-year-old boy forced a 14-year-old neighbor back to his home at gunpoint, tied her up and raped her.
To obtain his guns, Kohlhepp used Dustan Lawson to make a straw purchase.
Lawson signed paperwork saying the 12 guns and five silencers he bought between 2012 and 2016 were were for himself and then gave them to Kohlhepp, according to a federal indictment against Lawson. The lawsuit said at least seven of the weapons were bought at Academy Sports.
“Those suppressors were bought legally for about three minutes,” Kohlhepp said, laughing in a videotaped interview with investigators shortly after his November 2016 arrest.
Lawson pleaded guilty and was sentenced to more than seven years in federal prison.
He told federal investigators that Kohlhepp mentioned killing four people at a motorcycle shop and kidnapping a woman and her boyfriend so he could keep her as a sex slave, but said he didn't believe it because Kohlkhepp was always telling wild stories.
In his interviews with deputies, Kohlhepp called Lawson a “32-year-old lazy kid who never had a daddy." A deputy asked if Lawson bought Kohlhepp's guns.
“Yes, sir. And then I modified the hell out of them,” Kohlhepp replied.
Kohlhepp was arrested after a woman's cellphone pinged its last signal from his property. Deputies found her chained inside a storage container. She told them her boyfriend had been killed and that led to finding the bodies of another man and woman. Kohlhepp said he sexually abused that woman for six days before killing her on Christmas 2015.
Kohlhepp then confessed to killing the owner of the Superbike motorcycle shop and three employees in November 2003 because he thought they made fun of him, authorities said.