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Looper pleads guilty in murder of toddler

William Ryan Looper in court Thursday afternoon. Looper accepted a plea arrangement for life in prison without parole for the 2018 murder of 2-year-old Brantley Smith.

The man charged with the murder of a 2-year-old boy in 2018 pleaded guilty Thursday afternoon at the Laurens County Judicial Complex, accepting a plea arrangement and thereby avoiding a capital murder trial that had been scheduled to begin in late January.

William Ryan Looper, 30, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole by 8th Circuit Judge Donald B. Hocker for the brutal murder of Brantley Smith at a residence on Country Lane in Clinton. In addition to the murder charge, Looper also pleaded guilty to three related charges, including criminal sexual conduct with a child, that netted another 60 years in prison. The sentences are to run concurrently.

“We still believe very strongly that the death sentence was appropriate, and I still

Brantley Smith

believe today that the death sentence would have been appropriate for what William Looper did,” said 8th Circuit Solicitor David Stumbo. “But we withdrew the death notice because we believe a full, more complete justice could be had in this case.”

In exchange for taking the death penalty off the table, Looper agreed to testify for the state in a future case. Looper told prosecutors that he was a victim of physical and sexual abuse as a child before and after moving to Laurens County when he was about 10 years old.

His father, William Harold Looper III, 51, of Mauldin was booked into the Johnson Detention Center on Nov. 8 and faces nine separate charges levied by the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office. The elder looper is charged with two counts criminal sexual conduct with a minor, three counts of unlawfully placing a child at risk, three counts of disseminating harmful or obscene material and buggery.

Stumbo said none of the charges currently faced by William Harold Looper are directly related to the younger Looper’s murder charge.

During an allocution hearing on the heels of Thursday’s plea agreement, Looper told Hocker that he had been physically and sexually abused as a child, reiterating what he had told investigators in earlier interviews and agreeing to testify.

Before sentencing, Looper initially disagreed with some of the characterizations described by Stumbo as he laid out the events that led up to Smith’s death on June 30, 2018. After meeting with attorneys, Hocker noted Looper’s concerns and Looper agreed with the plea arrangement.

In his first public comments since the incident, Looper expressed remorse.

“I can’t say enough to make it right,” Looper said. “That’ll never be possible, but I do apologize for all the hell I’ve caused (the family). I can say I’m sorry every day for the rest of my life, but that will never bring (Brantley) back.”

Brantley Smith’s extended family, including his grandparents, said through a family spokesperson, who read a statement into the record, that they had suffered emotional and financial hardships since the brutal murder. They also said Smith’s two older brothers are still suffering emotional trauma and receiving professional help since the murder.

The children’s mother, Jessica Blake Smith, 30, has been charged with homicide by child abuse and two counts of unlawful neglect of a child. She remains in the Johnson Detention Center after being denied bond in 2018.

Stumbo said he expects to meet soon with her attorneys to determine a path forward. He said she had agreed to testify against Looper if the case had come to trial.

Hocker called the entire situation “a tragedy in so, so many ways.”

“It is the court’s hope and prayer that this proceeding provides some sort of closure for the family,” he said, then speaking directly to Looper.

“I also hope, Mr. Looper, that you develop the faith that you will need to be able to live with, handle and endure a life behind bars for the remainder of your life.”

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