South Carolina

Jury finds Columbia man guilty in car rage mayhem at cemetery

Memories of being mowed down during funeral scar family members

James Kester was denied a reduction in bond after victims spoke in court about the July incident where Kester drove into a crowd gathered for a funeral
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James Kester was denied a reduction in bond after victims spoke in court about the July incident where Kester drove into a crowd gathered for a funeral

A Richland County jury has delivered multiple guilty verdicts in the bizarre case of James Kester, who sped his car through a Columbia cemetery last year, striking 11 people at a funeral.

The jury deliberated more than six hours before reaching its verdicts Wednesday night.

Kester, 66, was found guilty of a half-dozen counts of assault and battery with serious bodily harm. However, the jury acquitted Kester on several other counts, according to one of his court-appointed lawyers, Bill Nettles.

“The jury did the right thing,” the former U.S. attorney said Thursday.

An official tally of the guilty charges was not possible Thursday because the Richland County Courthouse was closed due to Hurricane Michael.

Prosecutors Vance Eaton and Sam McGlothin had sought guilty verdicts on more serious charges — of attempted murder.

With Michael bearing down on Columbia, Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman delayed Kester’s sentencing until Friday.

The victims and their families expressed relief the guilt-or-innocence phase of the trial was over. Some said they are looking forward to speaking Friday at Kester’s sentencing hearing.

“I want to say something,” said former University of South Carolina School of Law dean John Montgomery, one of the survivors who testified at this week’s trial.

Montgomery suffered a gash in his leg and other injuries in the bizarre July 19, 2017, incident.

On that day, Kester, who acknowledged he was obsessed with seeking vengeance against the S.C. Department of Mental Health for his daughter’s alleged mistreatment years ago, drove his Cadillac into the graveside service of longtime Mental Health worker Margaret “Peggy” Livingstone.

Kester did not know Livingstone, and she had nothing to do with the state agency’s treatment of Kester’s daughter. But Kester saw Livingstone’s obituary in the newspaper, noted it said she had worked for Mental Health and decided to strike, prosecutors said.

When Kester arrived at the cemetery, he saw mourners at Livingstone’s graveside and sped his Cadillac toward them, striking a dozen people — ranging from an 11-year-old girl to senior citizens in their late 70s — and sending them flying.

The girl’s arm was broken in two places and her elbow cracked. Another man had both legs broken. A woman, who was injured, testified she has the imprint of a headlight on her hip and suffers continuing shoulder, knee and hip problems. Another woman has tire tracks on her legs and a crushed leg, according to testimony.

“An EMT testified there were life-threatening injuries if they hadn’t been able to get the injured stabilized,” Montgomery said. “People could have died right there.”

Kester acted as his own lawyer during his trial but put up no defense.

In a rambling opening statement Monday, Kester told jurors he didn’t mean to harm anyone but had “blacked out” at the cemetery.

In his closing statement to the jury, Kester elaborated on his complaints against the Department of Mental Health and gave a brief apology.