Eric Lankford was fourteen years old when he murdered three members of his family in South Carolina. According to court documents Eric Lankford would fatally shoot his father, great aunt and grandmother with a rifle he was given as a present just a few months before. After the fatal triple shooting the teen killer would phone police and would tell them what to do.
When the officers arrived Eric Lankford would peacefully surrender. Eric Lankford would plead guilty but mentally ill to the three counts of murder. Lankford would be sentenced to forty years in prison.
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Current Location: Kirkland
Release Date: 2051
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The attorney for a Spartanburg teenager said in court Thursday that the teen longed for a supportive family when he murdered his father, grandmother and great-aunt.
Eric Lankford, 18, received a 40-year sentence for each murder after he pleaded guilty but mentally ill. He was 14 at the time of the triple homicide shortly before midnight on Jan. 17, 2011.
Circuit Judge Mark Hayes also sentenced Lankford to five years for possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. The sentences will run concurrently. Lankford will receive credit for the 1,513 days he already has served.
Solicitor Barry Barnette said Eric Lankford used a .22-caliber rifle to murder his father, Joe Robert Lankford, 44; his grandmother, Rachel Gaston Lankford, 80; and great-aunt, Virginia Gaston, 83, at their home at 900 S. Irwin Ave. Ext. Barnette said each victim was shot in the head.
Barnette said Lankford called 911 and reported the shootings before he “peacefully” surrendered to police.
During the plea hearing, Eric Lankford rubbed his handcuffed hands together. He answered the judge’s questions with “Yes, sir” and “No, sir.“
Eric Lankford apologized in court for his actions. He said he would use his time in prison wisely — finish school and receive therapy in order to be a responsible citizen after his release.
There was no explanation for the murders offered at the plea hearing.
Spartanburg County Assistant Public Defender Beverly Jones was Lankford’s attorney. Jones said the crimes defied explanation. She said Lankford loaded the gun and wrote a suicide letter because he planned to kill himself. However, she said he was unable to carry out the act.
Jones said Lankford can’t explain why he shot and killed his relatives. She also said he had no criminal record or behavioral problems in school.She said Eric Lankford was born three months premature and suffered several medical setbacks as an infant. Jones said Lankford’s father questioned his paternity after his birth, and the night he was murdered. When Eric Lankford was 4 years old, Jones said his mother had a psychotic break that resulted in her arrest and hospitalization.“She forcibly tried to board an airplane to go to Jerusalem to see Jesus,” Jones said.
After the incident, Jones said Eric Lankford went to live with an aunt. She said after his parents split, Joe Robert Lankford was granted custody of Lankford and his sister.
Jones said Eric Lankford attended several elementary schools because of frequent moves and that the state Department of Social Services was involved with the family multiple times after receiving complaints, including abuse allegations.
“It wasn’t the system that failed Eric. It was his family,” Jones said.
She said tests revealed that Lankford has several learning disabilities related to impaired brain functioning, which impairs his decision making, judgment and impulse control.
Jones said Eric Lankford wanted to be a volunteer firefighter like his father, or a police officer.
“But dad always reminded him you can’t, because you’re not whole. You’re not a real man. You’ve got something wrong with you,” Jones said.
She said Joe Robert Lankford was a “functioning alcoholic” who had been drinking all weekend leading up to the killings.
“This case is a horrific tragedy and it involved some serious mental health challenges that would have added to the unpredictability of a jury trial. The sentence takes a dangerous person out of our community,” Barnette said in a written statement.
Eric Lankford is not eligible for parole.
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A grand jury has decided that a Spartanburg teenager accused of killing three family members will be charged as an adult.
Eric Lankford, who is now 15, was indicted on three counts of murder and possession of a gun during a violent crime.
On Jan. 17, 2011, Lankfords father, Joe Robert Lankford, 44, and his great-aunt, Virginia Dare Gaston, 83, and his grandmother, Rachel Gaston Lankford, 80, were killed at their home. A police report said the victims were found in different rooms and that all three had been shot in the face or head.
Prosecutors said Eric Lankford calmly called 911 and told a dispatcher that he had shot his relatives with a .22-caliber rifle. He told dispatchers he would be waiting for them at the home.
When officers arrived, the teen came out of the house with no shirt on and his hands in the air.
A .22 caliber rifle was found on the table in the living room, the report said. Fisher said the teen’s father had given the rifle to his son as a birthday gift four months before the shootings.
Eric Lankford has been held at the Department of Juvenile Justice since his arrest.
A court appearance is scheduled next month.
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A Spartanburg teen has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for killing three relatives.
Prosecutor Barry Barnette said Thursday that 18-year-old Eric Lankford was sentenced after pleading guilty but mentally ill to three counts of murder and possession of a weapon during a violent crime.
Eric Lankford was accused of killing his father, great aunt and grandmother in 2011. Forty-four-year-old Robert Lankford and 83-year-old Virginia Gaston died when they were shot at their home. Eighty-year-old Rachel Gaston Lankford died at a hospital.
Prosecutors say the teen calmly called 911 and told a dispatcher had shot his relatives with a .22-caliber gun. Barnette says he was found competent to stand trial but was found to have abnormal brain development and learning disabilities.