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A 46-year-old Hardeeville man was sentenced to life in prison Monday for beating his former girlfriend to death in 2009.
Terry Dean Swanger pleaded guilty to the murder of Vikki Pope, also of Hardeeville. The plea came just before jury selection in Swanger's trial in the Jasper County courthouse in Ridgeland.
On the day of the murder, Pope, who had just ended her five-year relationship with Swanger, was moving him out of the couple's Millstone Landing mobile home. When Pope didn't answer her phone and didn't show up for work at the S.C. Welcome Center in Hardeeville the next day, a friend called the Jasper County Sheriff's Office.
Deputies arrived to find Swanger standing in the driveway beside a car holding a shovel. Pope's battered and bruised body was found wrapped in a comforter in the back seat.
Swanger ran into nearby woods, leading authorities on a seven-hour manhunt before they caught him caught near Old Charleston Road in Hardeeville. He has been in the Jasper County Detention Center since his arrest.
During the search, Swanger called his brother and told him he had killed Pope and needed his brother to pick him up, according to Solicitor Duffie Stone, who described the couple's volatile relationship.
"Vikki had standing instructions with a friend for her to call police if she didn't answer the phone in the morning. That's the kind of fear she had of Swanger," Stone said.
Investigators found Pope's DNA on Swanger's belt and her blood in the mobile home. She had been beaten on the head, neck and torso with a cylindrical object, possibly a pipe, inside the home, according to Coroner Martin Sauls.
At Monday's hearing, prosecutors showed Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen photos of Pope's body taken during an autopsy at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
Before sentencing, Mullen said the photos were "the worst I'd ever seen -- the severity was enormous."
Stone, who cited several cases in which Swanger had been charged with criminal domestic violence before Pope's death, asked Mullen to consider a life sentence because of Swanger's criminal history and the brutality of the beating.
Pope's mother, Doris Ann Vandergriff of Madison, Ga., who spoke before the sentencing, said she couldn't describe what it was like to lose a child.
"I just don't want any other mother or father to have to go through the same thing we did," Vandergriff said. She also thanked investigators and attorneys for their work.
Swanger, who has five daughters and had worked as a heating and air conditioning technician for 26 years, told Mullen that he was pleading guilty because he didn't want to put his family or the victim's through a trial.
"I've just hurt so many people," Swanger said. "I want to give some closure to the situation and the family."
Follow reporter Cassie Foss at twitter.com/LcBlotter.