ANDERSON, S.C. — A South Carolina man will spend the rest of his life in prison for shooting two strangers who offered him a ride on Christmas Eve 2014, killing one and paralyzing the other.
John Farrell Villarreal, 25, of Travelers Rest was sentenced to life, plus 65 years, after pleading guilty to murder, attempted murder, carjacking and gun possession during a violent crime, solicitor David Wagner announced Thursday.
“There is no place for someone like John Villarreal in our society. His actions were heinous and cold,” Wagner said. “He took one life and permanently altered another. He was planning to take more.”
Prosecutors said the shootings were part of Villarreal’s plan to steal a car and travel 300 miles to Fitzgerald, Georgia, to pick up a 17-year-old girl he’d become romantically involved with online.
According to testimony in court, Villarreal shot driver James Dobson and his friend Mary Fowler after they agreed to drive Villarreal to the Georgia state line for $30. He then dumped them on the side of Interstate 85.
Someone spotted Dobson waving his hand for help and called 911. Dobson, 44, and Fowler, 43, were still alive when deputies found them, but Fowler died at the hospital that night.
Dobson survived but is paralyzed on one side and nearly blind. One of his eyes is gone and the other has limited vision. Bullet fragments remain in his brain.
Officers let Villarreal go twice before he was ultimately arrested for the shootings.
After dumping his victims and cleaning out the car, Villarreal drove to the teenage girl’s home and got in an argument with the girl’s mother, prompting police to be called. On his drive back home, a Georgia trooper stopped him for speeding and wrote him a ticket.
Villarreal was arrested several days later, following a second unsuccessful trip to Georgia to get the girl. When he returned to Anderson County, a deputy spotted the stolen car.
During Dobson’s confession, he told investigators he planned to return a third time and kill the girl’s stepfather, mother and older brother — calling it a “wet extraction” because he expected it to be bloody.
Investigators found four guns in the vehicle, including the gun used to shoot Dobson and Fowler. At his home, authorities found another rifle and the shell casings from the bullets he fired at the two.