More than 40 friends and family members shed tears of relief Friday afternoon as they pushed their way forward for a chance to hug Michael Bennie Williamson, who had just been found not guilty on all charges, including murder, relating to the death of a 16-year-old Loris boy in 2017.
Some of those same supporters told a jury of 10 women and two men earlier in the week that Williamson was a stand-up guy who worked all the time and went out of his way to help people.
Horry County Councilman Johnny Vaught testified in Williamson’s trial Thursday, saying the 51-year-old Aynor man and his brother had once provided his lawn care service.
When Williamson wanted to expand his business with some S.C. Department of Transportation contracts, Vaught was glad to make a few contacts on his behalf.
“I always trusted him to be straight up and honest,” he said.
It took the jury about four hours to make a decision.
The not guilty verdicts were read before a crowded courtroom that included at least 10 Horry County Sheriff’s deputies who were stationed to keep order when the verdicts were read and to keep the two groups of supporters apart. They also lined the third-floor hallway as the groups headed out.
Although none of the Williamsons were ready to comment on the verdicts, two of the family’s supporters were willing.
Donald Hearl of Galivants Ferry said, he’s “like my daddy.”
During the trial, Hearl testified that when he was having problems with addiction, he rode by Williamson’s home and saw that he was concreting his pool. He stopped to help, landed a job with Williamson and stayed there for five years.
“He gave me the opportunity to work knowing everything about me,” he said, adding that he gave him a car to drive, stood by while he received counseling, helped him get his child back, even let him stay at his home.
He said he’s never seen him angry and characterized him as a quiet man.
Lee Harper, Williamson’s business partner, agreed with the not-guilty verdict.
“I just want to say my heart goes out to the Prince family. It’s a terrible situation all the way around, but Michael is a good man. I think the verdict was fair and true. It is a tragedy what happened,” Harper said.
He believes the fight and killing would not have happened if the group of uninvited guests had not shown up at the Williamson’s home on the night of July 9, 2017.
“…I know personally that Michael Williamson would not hurt a soul without being provoked.”
The night the incident happened, the Williamson family and several other family members and friends were celebrating Williamson’s wife’s birthday and the graduation of one of his sons.
The group was cooking out, swimming in the family’s pool, playing on a rented inflatable waterslide and shooting pool in the garage when some other boys about the ages of the Williamson boys rode by, saw the party and wanted to come.
Conner Williamson, who is 20 now, but was 16 at the time of the party, got a call from Blayden Richard Bell of Galivants Ferry, asking if he and several others could come to the party. When Williamson learned that the two who wanted to come were Jordan Kelly Johnson of Aynor and Blayden Bell he spoke with his father about their request. All of the boys involved are Aynor High School graduates except Bell, who attended school in Loris and Green Sea Floyds.
Williamson told his son to tell the boys not to come because he knew they had bad reputations.
“They like to drink and fight and it wasn’t that kind of party,” Conner Williamson said.
He said the caller got mad and threatened to beat him up.
He informed his brother about a second call and they told their father that the group was headed to the residence, although it was about 1 a.m. when Williamson and two others were cleaning up and putting away the food.
Williamson asked Michael Johnson to tell them not to come. He thought everything was handled and they weren’t coming.
Conner says when he learned they were coming, he was scared and that’s why he went back to his dad to tell him they were on their way.
There was conflicting information given about the presence of the uninvited guests, but everyone agreed that the boys had been drinking at the river, then went home to drink more before drinking still more at the Easy Bar and Grill in Aynor.
However, an Horry County police officer Sgt. King Hemingway said he interviewed the group after the incident and didn’t believe any of them were intoxicated.
Conner Williamson said he was in the garage shooting pool when he saw Blayden Bell and Jordan Johnson pulling up.
Michael Williamson testified that when he saw the white Tahoe that he believed the boys were riding in pull up, he hoped to convince them to leave.
A friend at the party, Jason Ammons, had brought a boat that he had just bought the day before. He was proud of it and wanted to show it off to everybody. Williamson said he went to the boat and grabbed a paddle to defend himself, if he needed to.
Spencer Prince was one of the teens inside the vehicle. The group included Blayden Bell, his dad Nathan Bell, Johnson and Stephen Patrick Ryce Jr. of Aynor.
When one of the back doors of the vehicle opened and Williamson saw Jordan Johnson getting out, Williamson told him to get back in. When he didn’t he hit him with the paddle because he believed that Johnson likes to sucker punch people and he was afraid.
“Yes sir. I was fearful for me and my boys,” Williamson testified during questioning by his attorney Morgan Martin.
Williamson said his wife’s family is kin to Nathan Bell so he knew his reputation for violence. At one point Bell was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor in connection with this case, but those charges were dropped the day the trial began.
“I didn't want no problems with these people,” Williamson said. “All I wanted was for them to leave.”
Williamson says he was hit in the eye leaving a gash and lots of blood. He was wrestled to the ground. He said he was on his hands and knees trying to get up, but he couldn’t.
Conner said when he saw his dad’s predicament he hit Blayden and pulled him off of his father. He went to the garage and got a pool stick because he was afraid the uninvited guests might kill him, his brother and his father.
Michael Williamson said he got his gun from his car and fired one shot into the air trying to scare the group again before being attacked a second time. He had his hands up to keep from pointing the gun toward anyone, he said.
Spencer Prince was part of the second fight.
Williamson said as he backed up, he bumped Nathan Bell and his gun went off.
Martin said Spencer was close to Williamson because forensic pathologist Lee Proctor had found that Prince had gunshot stippling on his hand and shirt. He estimated that he was within 6-inches to 12-inches of the gun.
Williamson said he didn’t realize that Spencer had been shot until much later. He, Williamson, was taken to a hospital to have his injuries tended before being taken to the Horry County Police Department to answer questions from about 6 a.m.-9 a.m. before being charged with voluntary manslaughter and several other offenses. Those charges were later upgraded by the 15th Circuit Solicitor’s Office to murder, attempted murder and possession of a gun during a violent act. Williamson has a concealed carry permit.
About the time the shot was fired, Williamson said, “I was still dazed or scared. I don’t know what it was. I didn’t realize I had the gun…All I wanted them to do was leave.”
When Nathan Bell pushed him, he lost the gun. He tried to find it because he was afraid his adversaries were going to get it.
Jason Anders, senior assistant attorney general with the S.C. Attorney General’s Office who prosecuted the case, pointed out to Williamson that the fight lasted less than one minute. The incident was captured on a home surveillance video system at the Williamson home.
During the trial, the video was shown multiple times as attorneys pointed out to the jury what they thought were the significant actions.
After the first altercation, Williamson said the fighting might have been over, but he didn’t think it was because he was still being threatened.
Anders pointed out that all his attackers were not armed. Williamson argued that he considers fists a weapon because lots of damage can be done with them.
He also said he was confused, he’d been up all night and he’d been hit in the head.
“I didn’t know what was happening,” he said.
But Anders argued that Williamson was just mad.
“You were so angry, you ran toward that truck,” he said.
Again, Williamson said he was scared and wanted to defend his family.
“They were all walking back to their car and you came out with guns blazing,” Anders countered.
He said Williamson was angry because a 16-year-old had knocked him out. That’s when he ran back to the car and grabbed his gun.
“You were angry,” he said.
Two witnesses testified that Jordan Johnson had previously assaulted them with no provocation. One, who said he was a friend of Johnson, said he hit him in the face, knocking out his two front teeth.
Another said he had been in an Aynor bar drinking most of an afternoon. When he turned to leave Johnson jumped him from the back and, “Yeah, I got beat up pretty bad.”
He said he stopped the attack by rolling up under his truck.
Johnson pleaded guilty to third-degree assault and battery in January of 2017, and a second charge of assault and battery was dismissed in February of 2020, according to the Horry County Public Index.
Vaught described Williamson as quiet, self assuring and in control.
He described their relationship as being great and said he had never seen Williamson angry or heard of him making an angry statement.
Harper also spoke on Williamson’s behalf during the trial.
He said if anything ever happened to him he believed that Williamson would take care of his wife and children forever.
The two men became partners in the concrete construction business 15 years ago and have more recently branched out into forest mulching.
“He’s the finest person I’ve met…I’ve never heard him be in any trouble whatsoever,” he said also crediting him with honesty.
“As far as my knowledge. I’ve never heard a cross word about Michael in any way,” he said.
In his opening statement, Martin said, “He (Williamson) didn’t go looking for trouble, trouble came looking for him.”
He said Williamson and his wife have three children and one grandchild. Williamson grew up in a single-wide mobile home with a single mom. He graduated from high school and married his high school sweetheart. They lived in a single-wide mobile home before moving into a doublewide and working hard to build a nice house.
He told the jury that Williamson gets up everyday, goes to work, provides for his family, goes home, sleeps and then gets up the next day and does it again.
He classified Williamson as a “solid citizen.”
“He’s the kind of man that built America,” Martin said of Williamson, adding that he had never been in trouble before.
“He’s a good man,” Martin said.