Eddie Clyde Helms will not face death penalty in Union County case

The Union County man accused of killing two men 24 years apart will not face the death penalty in his home county, prosecutors announced at a hearing Monday afternoon.

That means Eddie “Clyde” Helms has avoided the prospect of capital punishment for both pending cases against him.

One victim was killed in Union County and the other in neighboring Anson County. Earlier this month, Anson County District Attorney Reece Saunders said his office will not seek the death penalty against Helms.

Additional details about the cases surfaced during the brief hearing Monday after Helms’ lawyer, John Painter, unsuccessfully tried to get bond set.

Helms was arrested in August and charged in the killings of Charles Ronald Godwin, 60, in eastern Union County on Aug. 30, 2012, and John Terow Griffin III, 39, in Peachland, Anson County, on Nov. 10, 1988. Both men died in similar fashion: Their killer sneaked up on them in the dark, then delivered a shotgun blast to the back.

In Union County, Helms also was charged with stalking Godwin and a female friend of his who had recently dumped Helms after dating him for more than seven years.

‘A dangerous person’

Anger and jealousy were common denominators in both killings, law enforcement officials have said. Helms had heard that Godwin and his ex-girlfriend “were in a type of relationship, in his eyes,” Assistant District Attorney Ernest Collins told the court.

In fact, Collins said, Helms went into “a rage or fit of jealousy” after he saw his ex and Godwin kiss at a church function. That night, Godwin was watching a movie at his home when he stood up from his chair and Helms shot him him through the window, Collins said. “Our contention is that Mr. Helms killed two people,” Collins said. “He’s a dangerous person.”

Defense challenges witness

But Painter said prosecutors had a weak, circumstantial case, lacking eyewitnesses and physical evidence. Only after a witness in Anson County came forward did authorities tie the two cases together, Painter said.

And that witness – Griffin’s estranged wife, whom Helms was dating at the time Griffin was killed – made three or four different statements to authorities, including that her finger was on the trigger when Griffin was killed, Painter said. He also said the two Anson detectives on the case were later convicted in federal court on bribery charges.

Painter said Helms was not a flight risk and knew for two years that he was the target of an investigation but did not leave the area. Helms lives in the New Salem community outside Marshville, near the Anson County line, and had worked as a landscaper and grader for many years.

In arguing for Helms to remain jailed without bond, Collins, the prosecutor, said, “Just because a case is circumstantial does not mean we do not have a case.”

In jail without bond

Helms, 61, sat stoically in court, dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and blue tie. A couple dozen friends and relatives, including his son and daughter-in-law, attended the hearing. They sat several rows behind a few members of Godwin’s family, including his son and mother.

Godwin’s estate also is suing Helms for wrongful death. In a court filing for that case, Helms denied that he killed Godwin, records show.

Monday’s hearing was held to comply with a state requirement for the prosecutor to state in every first-degree murder proceeding whether he will seek the death penalty if there is a conviction in the case. Collins said there was no timetable yet for a trial.

At the end of the hearing, Superior Court Judge Anna Mills Wagoner ruled that Helms would remain in Union County Jail without bond. Godwin’s son, Brandon, pumped his fist twice and smiled slightly as he walked out of the courtroom.