Williston man gets life without parole for murder

It began on a midsummer evening in 2007 with a well-loved pastor who fished for solace, supper and the voice of God on the quiet waters of the Edisto River.

But it ended on a late autumn afternoon in the Barnwell County Courthouse with life imprisonment for a convicted killer.

William Allen Owens, 32, of 1650 Halford St., Williston, was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for the July 6, 2007 shooting of the Rev. Phillip McCreary Sr., 51, of 161 Bowens Road, Springfield.

Owens was charged with McCreary's murder July 16 - as was his former live-in girlfriend, Renee McKinney, 33, of Maryland.

McKinney's charge was later reduced to accessory after the fact of murder.

A four-day grand jury trial was held last week at the Barnwell County Courthouse.

"There is only one sentence that is appropriate here," Second Circuit Court Judge Jack Early told Owens. "A sentence where you will never, ever walk this earth as a free man."

Minutes before, shortly after 1 p.m., the seven-woman, five-man jury had returned a guilty verdict after deliberating a little more than an hour.

Early called Owens' act "heartless, cowardly, and inhuman."

He said on his years on the bench, "I have never, ever seen as senseless a killing as this," noting Owens, "didn't even steal the money out of his (McCreary) pocket."

"You showed this man absolutely no mercy," Early told Owens. "I can think of no reason for this (murder), other than pure meanness."

Early also gave Owens five years for the weapon charge which he could serve "after you do your life sentence."

McCreary was fishing early evening July 6 on the south fork of the Edisto River where S.C. 39 crosses the river and divides Orangeburg and Barnwell counties.

McCreary died from a single gunshot wound to the head.

His body was later found on the river's edge by his wife Annie McCreary and their son, Phillip McCreary, Jr.

Although McCreary's wallet was missing, $380 was found in his pocket.

McCreary expressed bafflement and grief over why her husband of 21 years was murdered.

"To know that he just killed my husband for no reason, I can't believe a person would do that," she said after the verdict.

Owens showed no emotion when the sentence was read and he did not testify on his behalf during the trial.

Owens' emotionless stance during the trial was a stark contrast to McCreary's grief and the emotions on display throughout the week.

Breaking down before the sentence was read, McCreary said her "life has been shattered."

"I look for my husband to come home every day," said the widow, her voice cracking.

She said it was painful for her to see Owens with his family throughout the trial because she can no longer hold or see her husband.

"I miss my husband - we had so many plans," she said with tears in her eyes.

She mentioned how her grandchild will never know her late husband.

McCreary thanked everyone involved in the case - from law enforcement to jurors.

After the verdict, supporters and friends of McCreary gathered outside the courthouse.

One woman sang in a sorrowful voice a gospel-like mantra of redemption and closure over and over as she raised a hand to the sky.

"The struggle is over; the struggle is over," she repeated.

But for McCreary, the struggle continues as she can no longer see her husband return home from his favorite fishing hole with a fresh catch.

"I'm still without my husband," she said. "Only by the grace of God can I go on."

It began on a midsummer evening in 2007 with a well-loved pastor who fished for solace, supper and the voice of God on the quiet waters of the Edisto River.

But it ended on a late autumn afternoon in the Barnwell County Courthouse with life imprisonment for a convicted killer.

William Allen Owens, 32, of 1650 Halford St., Williston, was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for the July 6, 2007 shooting of the Rev. Phillip McCreary Sr., 51, of 161 Bowens Road, Springfield.

Owens was charged with McCreary's murder July 16 - as was his former live-in girlfriend, Renee McKinney, 33, of Maryland.

McKinney's charge was later reduced to accessory after the fact of murder.

A four-day grand jury trial was held last week at the Barnwell County Courthouse.

"There is only one sentence that is appropriate here," Second Circuit Court Judge Jack Early told Owens. "A sentence where you will never, ever walk this earth as a free man."

Minutes before, shortly after 1 p.m., the seven-woman, five-man jury had returned a guilty verdict after deliberating a little more than an hour.

Early called Owens' act "heartless, cowardly, and inhuman."

He said on his years on the bench, "I have never, ever seen as senseless a killing as this," noting Owens, "didn't even steal the money out of his (McCreary) pocket."

"You showed this man absolutely no mercy," Early told Owens. "I can think of no reason for this (murder), other than pure meanness."

Early also gave Owens five years for the weapon charge which he could serve "after you do your life sentence."

McCreary was fishing early evening July 6 on the south fork of the Edisto River where S.C. 39 crosses the river and divides Orangeburg and Barnwell counties.

McCreary died from a single gunshot wound to the head.

His body was later found on the river's edge by his wife Annie McCreary and their son, Phillip McCreary, Jr.

Although McCreary's wallet was missing, $380 was found in his pocket.

McCreary expressed bafflement and grief over why her husband of 21 years was murdered.

"To know that he just killed my husband for no reason, I can't believe a person would do that," she said after the verdict.

Owens showed no emotion when the sentence was read and he did not testify on his behalf during the trial.

Owens' emotionless stance during the trial was a stark contrast to McCreary's grief and the emotions on display throughout the week.

Breaking down before the sentence was read, McCreary said her "life has been shattered."

"I look for my husband to come home every day," said the widow, her voice cracking.

She said it was painful for her to see Owens with his family throughout the trial because she can no longer hold or see her husband.

"I miss my husband - we had so many plans," she said with tears in her eyes.

She mentioned how her grandchild will never know her late husband.

McCreary thanked everyone involved in the case - from law enforcement to jurors.

After the verdict, supporters and friends of McCreary gathered outside the courthouse.

One woman sang in a sorrowful voice a gospel-like mantra of redemption and closure over and over as she raised a hand to the sky.

"The struggle is over; the struggle is over," she repeated.

But for McCreary, the struggle continues as she can no longer see her husband return home from his favorite fishing hole with a fresh catch.

"I'm still without my husband," she said. "Only by the grace of God can I go on."