Convicted murderer says she deserves a pardon

Clara Childers
Clara Childers

By Molly Grantham - bio l email

YORK COUNTY, SC (WBTV) – There has been a overwhelming response to the story we first aired March 2nd about Clara Childers wanting to get a pardon.  She was convicted of murdering her abusive husband in 1980.  On March 3rd, we aired a story that included some of the responses and comments we've received.

We also took some of our questions to the Governor's Office of South Carolina, because the chair of the South Carolina Board of Probation Parole and Pardon Services canceled our interview and the spokesman said they wouldn't talk about the case.

Via email, the Governor's Office of South Carolina tells us it is at arm's length from the South Carolina PPP Board.  The Governor's Office also says South Carolina is somewhat unique in the fact that its Governor does not have pardon power.

This follow-up story is attached here, as well as the original story from March 2nd and a story we first did on Clara Childers in 1993 when she was in prison.

It has people talking about whether domestic violence should be taken into account during the prosecution and/or sentencing of a murder case.

WEB EXTRA: Watch the video with this story for extended interviews with those involved

Clara Childers says it should be.  She will be 76 years old this summer.  She was convicted of her husband's murder and served 20 years in a Greenwood, South Carolina prison for his death.  She got out on parole in 2000.  She remains on parole now.

"He would beat me badly.  I would run between him and the children, because he would beat me first and then he'd beat the boys," she says.  "I wouldn't have survived.  Because in the end [before he died], he had gotten harder and harder and he would've eventually killed me.  He really would have."

Andy Childers says domestic violence shouldn't be a factor in deciding the sentencing of a murder case.  Andy is the 70-year old brother or Raymond Childers, the man Clara was convicted of killing.  Andy says he doesn't believe in a man beating a woman but in Clara's case, he says, she deserved it.

"She's a troublemaker," he said in a sit-down interview.  "She brought all that on herself. She brought everything on herself. When she come in and start cussing and he was high tempered… he would have to whoop her to make her satisfied. She liked it."

Clara's case has twists and turns and family history that goes back decades.  But the facts are this:  She and Raymond married in 1960.  He was murdered in 1978, shot in the back while lying in bed.  She says at first she took the heat because her son and one of his teenage friends were really the ones responsible.  In the 1980 trial, her son and his friend said she had paid them to do it – contract murder.  She maintains that's not true.  Didn't matter.  All three were convicted and sent to jail.  In an appeals trial three years later, the boys' story changed.  They said she hadn't paid them.  The verdict didn't change.  Clara Childers remained sentenced to life in prison for first degree murder.

In 1993 a domestic violence bill passed that allowed inmates who could document abuse, to come up for parole every year, instead of every two years.

In 2000, Clara was let out on parole and told to go to Florida.  She went to Florida to live with family.  Months later, she asked for permission to move to North Carolina – she says she had a cousin there who could get her a job in a diner.  Both states agreed. 

Once in North Carolina, Clara asked for permission to visit family in South Carolina.  North Carolina permitted her to go for a visit.  Once in South Carolina, Clara says the South Carolina Probation, Parole and Pardon Board told her she had to move back to the state and couldn't stay in North Carolina.

"I don't know why she ever left Florida," says Andy Childers.  "I don't think she should've been allowed to leave Florida.  That's just not right."

Clara says she doesn't want to be any trouble.  She says since being on parole she has never done anything wrong.  She says she pays her $50 a month to the state's Probation, Parole and Pardon Board, and just hopes someday they'll give her a pardon.

"I'm just tired," she says.  "I'm an old woman. I hate to ask you can I move, can I go to North Carolina and spend the night with my cousin?  Or, my son?  Will I ever get to make a decision for myself?!?  I was controlled for twenty years by a man, and now the past thirty I've been controlled by the system."

A month ago she went up before the P.P.P. Board for a pardon hearing.  Clara had to pay a hundred dollars to get the hearing.  At a yearly salary of $7600 a year from social security, she says she can't afford to ask for a pardon every year. 

"I won't accept money from my kids to pay for this pardon hearing," she says.  "I want to do this myself."

After a decade of parole, Clara says she felt confident this year a pardon would be granted.  She was wrong.  After a seven minute hearing where both she and Raymond's family spoke, her pardon was denied.

We went to Columbia to ask the board spokesman why it was denied – no reasons are given to the applicant.

Peter O'Boyle told us that the board puts great weight in the testimony of victim's family member.  He also said he wouldn't answer questions about any specific case.  He told us if we had specific questions we could ask the chair of the board – Karen Walto of Tega Cay.

So we went to Walto's house.  We asked her if she'd be willing to talk with us about this case, at a later time of her choosing.  She agreed, asking for a few days to review Clara's information.  We agreed to meet three days later.  The morning of our meeting, O'Boyle called us to cancel the interview saying Walto would not be discussing the case with us at all.  No reason was given.

Andy Childers says no discussion is needed.  "You never pay the debt," he says.  "You can't go back out there and pick that man back up out of the grave."

But Clara says she'd really like someone to listen to what she has to say.  "I just don't understand when it will end," she says.  "I'm still being controlled and it's just unreal to think it will never end.  I didn't have a chance back then to go to a shelter.  I didn't have that choice.  I had to live with my abuse.  Because like I said… I'd take warrants out for his arrest and with the good ol' boy network, they'd just put them in a drawer and never serve them.  The system wouldn't help me then, and it's holding me back now."

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