Tiffany Williams, a mother of three and a prostitute, lay on the floor of her boyfriend’s Fort Mill condominium just before midnight on Dec. 4, bleeding and broken, trying to drag herself across the floor to stave off the blows from the boyfriend who stood above her in a rage, delivering fists and kicks from steel-toed workboots. The blood from her wounds covered the walls.
The boyfriend, John Coddington, an admitted misfit and loner, sought prostitutes for company. That’s how he met Williams weeks earlier.
Eventually, he found out Williams had bedded other men in his house, in his bed, so, fueled with two grams of crack cocaine and alcohol, he “snapped,” as he later told police.
“I beat her until she was almost dead,” Coddington said as plainly as ordering pizza.
Coddington told police “the demon came out in me.”
But Williams was not yet dead. Through a mouth broken, a body broken, she was able to croak out to Coddington as she begged to live: “I love you and I always will.”
“You never loved me,” Coddington told her.
Then he lit a cigarette, stood there, smoked, and for 20 minutes watched the woman he claimed to love suffer, gasp and die.
Then he got a demon tattoo on his right hand to show the demon that came out, a teardrop under his eye to show he was a killer, researched ways to get rid of bodies, and spent six days trying to cover up the crime by cleaning the apartment and burning Williams’ body in a barrel in rural Chester County, so the cops would never find out.
But the cops did find out – Coddington’s buddies told police the worst thing they ever saw had happened. Coddington was arrested and confessed. The eight months since were only a tap dance among lawyers to see if he would face the possibility of the electric chair. The dance ended Wednesday, after prosecutors offered a maximum of 45 years if Coddington would plead guilty.
Coddington took that plea.
And in spite of his lawyers saying the victim, Williams, “had sex with other men in his house, in his bed” and was still working as a prostitute when she introduced Coddington to meth, heroin, crack and more, Judge Dan Hall needed about two seconds to give Coddington the maximum of 45 years in prison under the negotiated plea.
The crime, prosecutors said, was as brutal as almost any ever committed in York County. Williams was a “flawed individual” who was addicted to drugs and was prostituting herself, but it was Coddington, 23, who chose to beat her so badly and then try to cover up the crime, 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett said.
Williams had five drug convictions on her record and did not have custody of her children at the time she was killed. She was, by all accounts, working again as a prostitute when she met Coddington in October 2015.
Yet Williams did not deserve what happened to her, said Brackett: She may have led an illegal and dangerous lifestyle, but she did not deserve to be beaten to a pulp, crammed into a suitcase, then burned from 150 pounds into 20 pounds of bone, hair and teeth ... and memories for her three children to take with them.
Coddington could have put his philandering girlfriend out on the street with her clothes, Brackett said, but he chose to instead get filled with rage, fueled by drugs and alcohol, and beat her.
The attempted cover-up included Coddington getting the tattoos, going to work nights at the Harris Teeter grocery store on Celanese Road, then coming home to bleach the apartment and take out evidence – including jewelry ripped from Williams’ dying body – in bags.
Coddington stood in court through all of this talk, allusions of him as the Jack the Ripper of York County, and said nothing as the prosecutors spoke of a crime that stunned his family and neighbors and all of South Carolina by its sheer violence.
All Coddington said in court is that he was guilty of murder, and this:
“I would like to apologize, to her family, especially her sister and her kids, and I don’t have anything else to say.”
Williams’ sister, Megan Williams, a co-defendant who was imprisoned in one of the drug cases against Tiffany Williams, spoke in court Wednesday. She said her sister had a family and did not deserve to die.
Coddington’s lawyers had brokered the plea deal to avoid a potential death penalty trial on charges of murder and dismemberment – though Coddington claims he did not cut up the body, despite Williams’ remains fitting in the small suitcase. His lawyers said he was socially awkward, so he turned to soliciting prostitutes online, where he found Williams. Coddington believed the two would marry, have kids, a life, said Coddington’s lawyer, Harry Dest, 16th Circuit chief public defender. Coddington worked nights for four years at Harris Teeter and was on a path to management.
“The prosecution has painted him as a monster,” Dest said. “But everything was on the right path until he met Tiffany Williams on Backpage, a website for prostitution.”
“Six weeks of horrific abuse” is how Dest described the weeks of drug and alcohol binges by both Coddington and Williams leading up the crime.
Williams further lied to Coddington and claimed she was pregnant, Dest said, then Coddington found it was not true and, in his own words, “snapped.”
Dest argued Coddington was “not in his right mind” from the drugs when he beat and killed Williams and was in an even worse drug frenzy in the days afterward as he tried to cover up the crime.
Another of Coddington’s lawyers, Deputy Public Defender B.J. Barrowclough, even argued the case was marginally manslaughter, a heat-of-passion killing, because Coddington came home and found Williams passed out on the floor.
A psychiatrist who examined Coddington said he had “unbridled fury” when Coddington discovered Williams was cheating on him and had gone back to prostitution but was otherwise a nonviolent person with no criminal record.
Florence Confrey, Coddington’s grandmother, said Coddington was a decent man who overcame childhood problems but the “bad choices” he made about who he let into his life became “drugs and chaos.”
After the court hearing, two friends of Williams, Heather Latham and Rhonda Griggs, called Coddington’s actions “sick.” Latham conceded that Tiffany Williams, the victim and her friend, was a prostitute and had a drug problem.
“I don’t wish prison on my worst enemy, but I wish he had gotten life,” Latham said. “She didn’t deserve what happened to her.”
More, the friends of the victim were sickened by the tattoos Coddington got after the murder that showed, and boasted, he was a killer. Coddington allegedly had asked other inmates in the jail as he awaited trial – he was held without bond since arrest – to draw a blonde woman’s face with one blue eye and half her face burned off, Latham said.
Just as Tiffany Williams had died, burned to bones and hair and dust after being beaten to death.
“He showed no remorse; it’s like he was proud of what he did,” Latham said. “He got tattoos for being a killer. Who does that?”
A killer who beat his girlfriend to death for infidelity and watched her die, then burned her body in a barrel and now will spend 45 years in prison until age 68, did that.