Crime & Public Safety

Man charged with 2013 Pritchardville woman's murder to stand trial Dec. 14

A man charged with killing a well-known Pritchardville woman in 2013 has been declared mentally competent and will stand trial next month following a pre-trial hearing Thursday morning.

Walter Glass is scheduled for trial on Dec. 14, nearly two-and-a-half years after he was charged with killing Melanie Lowther on July 31, 2013. Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen will preside.

According to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office, Glass allegedly struck the 60-year-old Lowther over the head with a nail remover as he burglarized the septic tank business she ran with her husband Barry.

Lowther and her family had helped Glass, 43, obtain a camper he lived in at the nearby Stoney Crest Campground. She had also paid for groceries for Glass and his girlfriend, and given them some money 10 days before her death, the campground's manager would later say.

Glass was charged with murder, armed robbery and burglary soon after Lowther's body was discovered. Investigators found money and jewelry believed to be owned by the Lowthers in the camper, along with the alleged murder weapon.

A Sheriff's Office investigator testified in August 2013 that Glass confessed to killing Lowther after she caught him stealing rolls of coins from the business.

Glass, who has been held at the Beaufort County Detention Center since his arrest the day of Lowther's death, underwent a mental evaluation by Medical University of South Carolina forensic psychiatrists in April 2014 and an evaluation by defense expert Dr. Thomas Martin in September 2014. Both evaluations found that Glass was competent to stand trial, but diagnosed him with psychiatric disorders, Martin said during the hearing.

Glass had not appeared in court since a magistrate judge denied bond on the armed robbery and burglary charges the day after Lowther's death.

The pre-trial hearing Thursday doubled as Martin's testimony. The defense expert had a schedule conflict that wouldn't allow him to attend next month's trial, defense attorney Arie Bax said. Martin's testimony would be used in mitigation during sentencing if Glass is convicted.

Glass faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted of murder.

Martin testified that he diagnosed Glass with schizophrenia after meeting with him last year. Glass has suffered from psychotic disorders and substance abuse since he was a 13 year old growing up in Tennessee, and spent most of his adult life in jail or psychiatric facilities, Martin said.

In the year before Lowther's death, Glass was homeless, living on the street without any means of treatment for his psychotic disorder and high on crack cocaine most of the time, Martin said. Glass told Martin he committed small crimes to procure funds to buy drugs, and was on a week-long crack cocaine binge in the lead-up to Lowther's death.

Martin said Glass frequently suffered from sleep deprivation, bouts of paranoia, and impulsive judgment. On July 31, despite his good rapport with the victim and her family -- which included Lowther giving Glass money and hiring him to do odd jobs -- he broke into the family's business searching for more money to buy crack cocaine.

"They gave him a lot of money, but he was more interested in drugs," Martin said.

Since his arrest, Glass has been on medication that's made his mental health the most stable of his adult life, but has developed suicidal thoughts, Martin said.

"He can't explain why he did it," Martin said. "They were sweet and tender to him .... He wishes he could go back in time and undo it. He's expressed remorse for it."

Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.

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