South Carolina

Families have strong words for murderer in death penalty case: ‘Hatred … runs so deep’

The man who murdered two employees during a robbery of a South Carolina bank is the first person to be sentenced to death since federal leaders announced its intention to resume executions.

On Thursday, a federal jury in Florence, South Carolina, sentenced Brandon Council to death. This was the first death penalty trial since Attorney General William Barr’s July announcement.

While on the run from two robberies in North Carolina, Council said he knew before going into the Conway, South Carolina, CresCom bank on Aug. 21, 2017, that he was going to shoot someone. He waited about 45 seconds after walking in and then shot Donna Major twice at her teller stand. He then ran into bank manager Katie Skeen’s office and shot her at point-blank range in the head. Council returned to Major, who was dying on the floor, and shot her in the back of the head.

Council robbed the bank, stole Skeen’s car and fled to North Carolina. Police apprehended him two days later, and he gave a full confession.

A federal judge Thursday moved directly to the sentencing, despite defense efforts to delay the proceedings. The sentencing was a formality as the judge was bound by law to follow the jury’s sentence.

Both Council and members of the Skeen and Major families addressed the court.

“I realize there is not an appropriate or acceptable way to apologize for my actions,” Council read from a statement. It was the first time Council spoke during the three-week trial.

“I am truly, forever sorry,” said Council, who wore a blue blazer and pinstriped shirt with his long dreadlocks tied behind his head. “I am ashamed of my actions.”

Council said the families’ testimony at trial showed the two were loved. He added he will continue to ask for forgiveness and hoped the victims could forgive him one day.

“I know because of my actions the world is without two spectacular human beings,” Council said.

Family members of both victims did not hold back in expressing their emotions, which ranged from sadness to pity to hatred. Katie Major, one of Donna Major’s daughter, turned and faced Council from only a few feet away. Council turned his head and looked at Katie Major, which was the first time he looked anywhere but straight ahead during the trial.

“The hatred I have for you runs so deep,” a crying Katie Major said.

She told Council how he stole her mom, her best friend and the moments the two were supposed to share.

“The thought of seeing you again makes me stick to my stomach,” Katie Major said. “I don’t feel bad for you. I feel sorry for you.”

Her sister, Heather Turner, said she is pained by her mother’s death daily, and if Council would have asked for help, Donna Major would have assisted.

“If you would have just given her a chance, she would help you, too,” she said.

While Turner said she “whole heartedly” agreed with the death sentence, she took a different tone than her sister. She read a Bible verse from the Book of Romans that has helped her since her mom’s murder.

“It would be so easy to say I want you to go to hell, but I don’t want that for you,” Turner said, “because you’re a child of God. You’re a child of God.”

Katie Skeen’s mother, Betty Davis, turned and looked right at Council as she demanded he face her. She said she didn’t believe his mother didn’t love him — which was a point the defense extensively argued in mitigation — and said he needed a mother in his life.

God will decide whether Council goes to heaven or hell based on his actions, Davis said.

“I don’t forgive you. I will never forgive you,” Davis said as she raised her voice with her husband holding her by the shoulder. “I don’t hate you. You are nothing but the man that took away Donna and Katie.”

Related stories from Durham Herald Sun

Alex Lang is the True Crime reporter for The Sun News covering the legal system and how crime impacts local residents. He says letting residents know if they are safe is a vital role of a newspaper. Alex has covered crime in Detroit, Iowa, New York City, West Virginia and now Horry County.