A Lancaster County man will serve at least 20 years in prison after pleading guilty in court Thursday to killing his wife during an argument in February.
Joseph Daniel Hilton – who was 62 when he was arrested – called 911 after shooting his wife, Deborah Faile Hilton, 59, in their home on Old Jefferson Highway in Kershaw.
The couple had been arguing and his wife wouldn’t stop talking, he told a 911 operator.
Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office deputies found Deborah Hilton dead with one gunshot to her upper torso just before midnight on Feb. 11.
In the 911 call, Joseph Hilton said calmly, “I shot my wife, and I think she’s dead,” said Doug Barfield, Lancaster County solicitor.
A .45-caliber pistol, the bullet and cartridge were found in the home, Barfield said.
Deborah Hilton’s body was found just a few feet from the front door, he said.
Joseph Hilton didn’t want to put their families through a trial, his public defender Mike Lifsey said.
“He’s probably as remorseful as any client that I’ve ever represented,” Lifsey said.
Joseph Hilton was sentenced to 25 years in prison with no parole opportunity until he’s served 20 and a half years.
Hilton’s legal proceedings have been the quickest resolution to a murder charge Lifsey’s seen in 21 years of practicing law, he said Thursday after the hearing.
The 25-year sentence means Hilton likely will spend the rest of his life in jail, Lifsey said.
He told Lifsey: “I made a mistake. I don’t want to put any of the kids (through a trial).”
On Thursday in court, Hilton did not speak.
A few people spoke “in memory” of Deborah Hilton – not necessarily “against” the defendant – and many people spoke for Joseph Hilton, Lifsey said.
Like all his clients, Lifsey said, he offered all legal options to Hilton.
But Hilton wanted to skip a trial and plead guilty, he said.
The solicitor’s office and the public defender negotiated a plea of voluntary manslaughter – down from murder.
Hilton’s remorse and sentence won’t make up for his action of killing his wife, Lifsey said, but entering a guilty plea was a “selfless act” by avoiding at least a weeklong murder trial.
Thursday’s “emotional hearing” lasted for about one hour, he said.
“I hope that his action in entering this plea brings some healing to his family.”
Anna Douglas • 803-329-4068