A man charged with the brutal murder and attempted murder of two people who picked him up while he was hitchhiking on Christmas Eve of 2014 will spend the rest of his life in prison. On Wednesday, The Honorable R. Scott Sprouse sentenced John Asher Farrell Villarreal to life for the murder of Mary Fowler, and handed down sentences of 30 years in prison each for charges of Carjacking and the Attempted Murder of James Dobson. Villarreal was also sentenced to 5 years for Possession of a Weapon during the Commission of a Violent Crime.
Villarreal pleaded guilty to all charges against him. Senior Assistant Solicitor Lauren Davis Price presented the case for the State, and Lee Cole represented the Defendant during the plea hearing.
Both Price and Solicitor David Wagner for the Tenth Circuit asked the Court for a life sentence. Solicitor Wagner had this to say following the sentence by the Court:
“There is no place for someone like John Villarreal in our society. His actions were heinous and cold, and show his complete lack of respect for human life. He took one life and permanently altered another. He was planning to take more lives but he was apprehended thanks to the hard work of the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office. The Court gave Mr. Villarreal the right sentence. A life sentence is the only way to protect society from the terrible danger he presents, and it is the only sentence befitting of the brutal crimes he committed.”
The following detailed facts were presented by the State during the plea hearing:
On December 23, 2014 the defendant received a Facebook message from a girl living in Fitzgerald, Georgia, who he was in an online romantic relationship with at the time. The girl was 17 years old. She told the defendant that her step-father was abusing her. The defendant did not own a vehicle, so he asked her if he could manage to steal a car to come pick her up if she would go with him. She said she would.
On December 24, 2014 the defendant tried to hotwire a car, but was unsuccessful. He was standing in the road in the area of Fletcher Street in Greenville wearing a rain suit when the victims, James Dobson and Mary Fowler, stopped their car to speak with him. He asked them for a ride to I-85, and they agreed on a price of $5 for the ride. Once they got to the Interstate, the victims agreed to take the defendant to the Georgia state line for an additional $25.
During this ride the defendant asked the driver, James Dobson, to pull over so he could urinate. As soon as Mr. Dobson pulled over and put the car in park, the defendant shot Mary Fowler, the passenger, in the back of her head once, and then shot James Dobson multiple times. The defendant then dumped the bodies of the victims on the side of I-85 and left them there to die.
He then drove their vehicle, a Hyundai Elantra, to the first exit South to get rid of their belongings, which he dumped by the side of the road. He pulled up the street and swapped the tag of the Hyundai with a tag from a white SUV. He then proceeded to Love’s Truck Stop where he cleaned out the car and cut the seatbelts out of the car because of the bloodstains, then continued to Georgia.
Once there, at noon on the 24th, the defendant got in an altercation with the mother of the girl and police were called, he was soon released and headed back to South Carolina. On his return he was stopped by a Georgia State Trooper and was issued a speeding ticket.
Back in South Carolina the defendant headed to what he calls his “safe house” which is a property on Fletcher Street within Greenville County. He then rode his bike to his home in Travelers Rest.
At 6:17 AM on the 24th a call came in to 911 to report a male laying on the right shoulder of I-85 at Mile Marker 16 within Anderson County. Deputies responded and found the victims, who were both still alive at this point. They were transported to the ER and treated. Mary Fowler died in the evening of the 24th from her gunshot wound, and Mr. Dobson was in critical care.
Several days passed, until the 29th of December when the defendant attempted to retrieve the girl from Georgia once again. Again, he was unsuccessful. He drove back to South Carolina, but instead of returning to his “safe house” he stopped at the home of a friend in Anderson County. He also went to the Anderson Library to send a Facebook message to the girl in Georgia. Upon returning to the friend’s home in Anderson, the defendant parked the vehicle in front of their property. Deputy Coward with the ACSO was driving by at 10:28 that morning when he observed the Hyundai, which matched the description of the vehicle law enforcement had been searching for during this investigation, which was occupied by a white male. He approached the vehicle, and it is at this time the defendant was apprehended.
The defendant gave two statements to law enforcement after his arrest, first providing a false narrative and blaming his possession of the car on a friend who he said let him borrow it. The defendant then gave a second statement to law enforcement, confessing to all of these events, and providing explicit details about his plans, including how he intended to return to Georgia for a third time to do what he called a “wet extraction” of his online girlfriend where he planned to kill her step father, mother, and older brother. He explained to law enforcement he called it a “wet extraction” because it is so bloody.
Four firearms were recovered from the defendant’s vehicle, along with the rain suit which he told investigators he planned to wear in Georgia during the extraction because it was black and because blood would wash off of it easily. The gun used to shoot the victims, a Walther model P22 semiautomatic pistol, was in the vehicle, and was later matched by a firearms expert. It was outfitted with a laser sight. A Ruger rifle & pistol were also in car, along with a Bursa .380, and another rifle was found in his home.
In the defendant’s home, investigators found materials from Mr. Dobson’s wallet that the defendant had kept, alongside articles from local newspapers detailing the killing and the investigation, along with two shell casings from the bullets used to shoot Mr. Dobson and Ms. Fowler. They also found materials used to construct silencers, which the defendant admitted making and using during this incident, and at other times as well. During his interview the defendant described how he constructed the suppressors in explicit detail.
During his interview, the defendant also admitted to setting up training areas in Greenville County and practicing tactical shooting.
James Dobson survived the attack, but suffered two gunshot wounds to the head. Bullets entered behind his right ear and came out of his left eye. He still has 6 bullet fragments in his brain. His left eye is completely gone, and he has very limited vision in his right eye. He is paralyzed on his entire left side. He can no longer walk, take care of his own personal needs, has slurred and slowed speech, and is in constant pain.