Downs to be executed for the murder of Keenan O'Mailia

By: Kate Tillotson
By: Kate Tillotson

It was a story that haunted the city of North Augusta.

In 2002, William "Junior" Downs pleaded guilty to the kidnap, rape and murder of six-year-old Keenan O'Mailia.

He asked to be put to death after hearing the judge deliver his verdict.

Downs also admitted to the murder of ten-year-old James Porter in Augusta.

Today, Junior Downs will be put to death for the murder of Keenan O'Mailia.

Downs arrived in Columbia this morning from a prison close to Charleston where all South Carolina death row inmates are held.

The crime that got him here was a brutal rape and murder that stunned the small city of North Augusta.

It has been seven years...and for Lt. Joe Count, going back to the scene is like going back in time.

"It was by far I think the most difficult case I've ever had to investigate," he says.

On April 17, 1999, North Augusta dispatch received a missing child report for six-year-old Keenan O'Mailia, last seen riding his bike on the Greeneway in Riverview Park.

Police began searching.

One hour quickly turned into two, then three...and there was still no sign of Keenan.

"When you're looking for him, you're not thinking the worst," says Lt. Count. "I mean, you're really thinking he fell down an embankment, he got bit by a snake, he got lost...he's somewhere."

But even with the hope of soon finding the little boy, search elements were far from favorable. Several hours had passed and daylight was fading. So police called on more than one hundred volunteers.

18 hours later, one of them would stumble onto a gruesome discovery.

Keenan's body was found about 100 feet from the main road. Searchers couldn't see from there and had to go into the woods to find him.

"We knew we had a really tough job ahead to deal with that and then try to solve the crime," Lt. Count says.

Investigators knew immediately they were dealing with a homicide and sexual assault.

William "Junior" Downs had raped and strangled Keenan, then buried him under a pile of leaves.

Lt. Count says Downs' plan was to come back, get the body and dump it in the Savannah River. "That was part of his confession," he says.

"When something like that happens in your community - and we talked about it back then - it really just destroys the sense of small town."

And seven years later, Lt. Count still reflects on the case that continues to rattle parents--a murderer and rapist had struck in what had always been considered a safe, family park.

Downs also confessed to killing another boy, 10-year-old James Porter, in 1991.

James' mother Kathy went to Columbia to serve as a witness. Keenan's mother was unable to attend and asked that Kathy sit in as her proxy.

Also serving witness were district attorney Danny Craig, Aiken solicitor Barbara Morgan, Lt. Count, and Downs' attorney.

For his last meal, Downs chose a series of snacks: salted cashews, fresh roast coffee, chocolate chip cookie dough, Moose Tracks ice cream, and three Mr. Goodbars.

At 6 o'clock he is scheduled to receive two injections. The first injection will put him to sleep, and the second will stop his heart. Following this procedure, witnesses will be given the opportunity to make a statement.

Junior Downs Timeline

March 14, 1991: Downs raped and murdered James Porter.

May 17, 1991: James' body was found in the Savannah River.

April 17, 1999: Keenan O'Mailia is reported missing.

April 18, 1999: Keenan's body is found in Riverview Park in North Augusta.

April 25, 1999: A tip leads police to Junior Downs.

June 27, 2002: Downs is sentenced to death.

July 14, 2006: Downs is executed.


Mailing Address: P.O. Box 1212 Augusta, GA 30903 Main Telephone: (803) 278-1212 Newsroom: (803) 278-3111 Fax: (803) 442-4561
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