The man who gunned down two people on I-85 in Anderson County on Christmas Eve in 2014 was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty on Thursday.
John Villarreal pleaded guilty to murder, attempted murder, possession of a weapon during a violent crime, and carjacking.
He asked Marie Fowler and James Dobson for a ride down I-85 in exchange for $5. According to investigators, Villarreal had received a Facebook message the day before from a 17-year-old with whom he was involved in a romantic relationship who said her stepfather was abusing her and asked if he could steal a car and come pick her up.
He tried to hotwire a car unsuccessfully on Dec. 24 before getting a ride with Fowler and Dobson.
Along the way, he shot them both in the head and dumped them alongside I-85 after asking them to pull over so he could urinate. Villarreal then took off in the victims’ car. Another driver found the victims on the side of the road and called 911.
Fowler died and Dobson suffered permanent injuries.
In statements to investigators, they said Villarreal admitted plans to travel to his online girlfriend's home and kill her family. He described it as a "wet extraction" due to the intended bloodshed. Investigators said they found firearms at Villarreal's home along with Dobson's wallet and newspapers detailing the I-85 homicide.
Dobson, who is confined to a wheelchair and still has six bullet fragments lodged in his brain, appeared in court Thursday and spoke before the sentencing. He suffered two gunshot wounds to the head which claimed his left eye as well.
Villarreal addressed the court and tears welled in his eyes as he expressed his remorse and said he has since found faith.
"I am a terrible sinner and Christ is a wonderful savior," the confessed killer said.
His attorney said Villarreal feels called to lead a Bible study in prison to help others learn from his mistakes. Villarreal, who addressed the court, said he was deeply sorry for his "wicked" actions.
The judge sentenced Villarreal to life in prison for Fowler's murder, 30 years for attempting kill Dobson, 30-years for carjacking, and five years for the weapons charge.
"There is no place for someone like John Villarreal in our society," solicitor David Wagner said. "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.”
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