Dillon County Man Gets 50 Years For Murder Of Stewart Heights Elementary School Principal

CHESTERFIELD, SC – Kyle Church, the Dillon County man accused of fatally shooting elementary school principal Wendy Cook in August of 2022, pled guilty today before Circuit Court Judge Kirk Griffin. Facing a statutorily-mandated sentencing range of 30 years to life without parole, Griffin sentenced Church to 50 years in the South Carolina Department of Corrections. Church will have to serve every day of the sentence.

“This was an execution,” said Assistant Solicitor Shipp Daniel, who prosecuted the case for the Fourth Circuit Solicitor’s Office. “By all accounts, Wendy Cook was a beloved mother, daughter, sister, friend and educator who did not deserve what Mr. Church did to her. We thank the Dillon County Sheriff’s Department for its hard work in investigating this case.”
In the early morning hours of August 21, 2022 at his mother’s home, Church called 911 and reported he had “shot [his] girlfriend.” Law enforcement responded and found Cook dead in the front passenger seat of a vehicle with one gunshot wound to the middle of her chest. Law enforcement collected home surveillance video that captured not only the shooting but several minutes leading up to the shooting.
“The video is clear,” said Daniel. “It shows Church calmly walking about 25 yards from the vehicle, where Wendy sat, up to the house. Church goes inside, retrieves his handgun, then calmly walks back towards the vehicle and fires six shots hitting the grill and windshield. Wendy wasn’t hit by any of those bullets. Church walked around to Wendy’s passenger side, put the gun down and talked with her for approximately six minutes. Then, as calmly as he had walked to and from the house, Church picks up the gun, extends his arm, points it at Wendy, and shoots her one time in the middle of her chest at point blank range. There was no video or physical evidence of a struggle, a fight or even an argument. It was an execution.”
Upon arrival at the scene, deputies with the Dillon County Sheriff’s Department detained Church and interrogated him. Daniel detailed how Church told multiple lies to law enforcement, including that he had attempted to help Cook by putting his hands over her wound to stop the bleeding. But the video showed nothing of the sort, and law enforcement found no blood on Church’s hands.
Daniel told the Court that this case had been scheduled for trial on March 11, 2024, and he was prepared to pick a jury and start the trial as scheduled.

He said Church had been holding out hoping Daniel would allow Church to plead to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, which carries a sentencing range of 0 to 30 years. But Church ultimately pled guilty to murder and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.
“Despite the defendant’s wish, there was no way I was going to allow him to plead to anything other than what he committed – and that is murder,” Daniel explained to the Court.
“We do not believe the evidence supports any charge but murder, so there were no plea deals to be had in this case.”
Many of Cook’s family and friends were present for the hearing. Some addressed the Court. “When he took my mom, he took everything,” said Cook’s daughter, Brittany Thompson.
“I’m sad, I’m mad, I’m angry,” said Tara Gray, Cook’s sister. “I’m every adjective you can imagine and some you probably can’t.”
Griffin also heard from Church’s lawyers, Church’s family and Church himself.
“I did something no man should do,” said Church. “I took the life of a person. I loved Wendy Cook, and I still love Wendy Cook.”
“Criminal sentencing is the hardest thing a circuit judge has to do, especially in a murder case,” said Griffin. “The one thing that would make everybody in this room happy is the one thing I cannot do, and that is to bring Wendy back. This was senseless. It was an unspeakable tragedy. There is no explanation for why the defendant did what he did that night.”
Griffin sentenced Church to 50 years, again noting that based on South Carolina law, Church will have to serve every day of that sentence.

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