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Prosecutor: Inmate’s past motives linked to sexual advances

May 26, 2019
This Feb. 27, 2017 booking photo provided by the South Carolina Department of Corrections shows William Tillman. Tillman, a South Carolina prisoner already convicted of killing someone behind bars, has been charged with murder in the death of his cellmate last month. Arrest warrants say Tillman kicked Carl Pollen Jr. several times in the head, then strangled him with a bed sheet on April 29, 2019, at Perry Correctional Institute near Pelzer, S.C. (South Carolina Department of Corrections via AP)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina inmate charged last month with killing his cellmate had two prior convictions for killing men over alleged sexual advances, according to a prosecutor and his own testimony at his trial.

William Tillman, 54, was charged Wednesday with murder in the death of 45-year-old Carl Pollen Jr. in their cell at Perry Correctional Institute near Pelzer.

Authorities have released few details about what led to the killing beyond an arrest warrant that said Tillman kicked Pollen in the head several times then strangled him with a bed sheet on April 29. Both men were serving life sentences for murder.

Tillman also killed a cellmate at a different prison in 2002, and Ervin Maye, the man who prosecuted Tillman in the first prison slaying, said there is an obvious link between it and the 1999 killing that landed Tillman in prison in the first place — angry encounters over sexual advances with a man he was living with.

“It was brutal. And he didn’t mind talking about it,” Maye told The Associated Press.

After prison guards found 37-year-old Michael Hodge dead in Tillman’s cell in 2002, Tillman spent 13 years at Kirkland Correctional Institute, which has South Carolina’s maximum security unit where the worst behaving inmates are isolated, according to state prison records.

Since the 2002 stabbing, Tillman’s only violations of prison policy before the April attack were three violations for having cellphones, which are banned behind bars, and one possession of drugs violation, according to prison records.

Without any other violent outbursts, Tillman met all the criteria needed to return to the general prison population, Corrections Department spokeswoman Chrysti Shain said.

After the 2002 killing, Tillman told investigators that he became angry after Hodge made a sexual advance toward him. But the evidence showed that Tillman got angry at Hodge after he was rejected, Maye said.

Tillman stabbed Hodge more than 40 times over minutes if not hours, inflicting blows, stopping, then inflicting some more, Maye said.

Tillman pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. “There isn’t much you can do when they are already serving a life sentence,” Maye said.

The only other more severe punishment would be the death penalty. Corrections Director Bryan Stirling is going to leave it up to the prosecutor in April’s killing to decide whether to pursue it, Shain said.

The circumstances of the 2002 killing are similar to the slaying that landed Tillman in prison in the first place. A Spartanburg County jury convicted Tillman of killing 53-year-old Harry Jolley Jr. in 1999.

Tillman testified he stabbed Jolley, leaving a butcher knife in the neck, while trying to defend himself after Jolley attacked him. The two met when Tillman was hitchhiking and Jolley offered him a place to stay. The two had a sexual relationship for a while before Tillman testified he asked to end it.

Prosecutors said Jolley was attacked with two different knives and imprints of Tillman’s shoes were found on Jolley’s back and head.

Maye said Tillman didn’t mind talking about Jolley’s killing either during the 2002 investigation.

“The investigator remembered him saying, ‘that was a knife fight and the other guy lost. Now this is a murder,’” Maye said.

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