Police: Family killed man over child custody dispute

AP News
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Posted: Jan 29, 2015 2:32 PM
Police: Family killed man over child custody dispute

SIMPSONVILLE, S.C. (AP) — A woman and her family lured her estranged husband to their home by offering to let him see his children, then beat him in the head with a hammer and fatally shot him as he tried to run away — a scheme created because they were upset about a child custody dispute, according to police in South Carolina.

The wife's brother, Jacob Hughes, 29, started the plan in motion by inviting John Michael Ferrell, 51, for drinks at a bar Saturday night, and he then offered to bring the man back to the house to see his children for the first time in a while, according to a police news conference late Wednesday.

But not long after Ferrell entered the home, he was attacked with a hammer, police said. He tried to climb out a 6-foot high kitchen window, but either his pants got caught on a nail or people inside pulled them down trying to prevent him from escaping, police said.

"He was hindered by his pants that were down around his ankles, preventing him from fleeing, in addition to the trauma from being struck in the head multiple times with the hammer," said Keith Grounsell, police chief in Simpsonville, a suburb of about 20,000 people just south of Greenville.

John Hughes, the wife's father, then took aim and fired at Ferrell, who was found dead 12 feet from the kitchen window, Grounsell said.

John Hughes, 57; his wife, Margaret Hughes, 55; their son, Jacob Hughes; their daughter and Ferrell's estranged wife, Jane Hughes, 33; and her boyfriend Andrew Martin, 37, are all charged with murder. The suspects had requested public attorneys, but they hadn't been assigned yet, police said Thursday.

Before his arrest, John Hughes told WYFF-TV that Ferrell was trying to break in through the window and that he feared for their lives.

"I killed my son-in-law. That's horrible enough. But the fact I have to somehow tell my grandchildren that I killed their father — that might be more than I can take," Hughes said.

WHNS-TV reported that it reviewed court records showing that Jane Hughes and Ferrell were going through a contentious divorce and child custody dispute.

Ferrell told officials that John Hughes told him taking his granddaughter would be the last thing he ever did. John Hughes told the court his son-in-law abused the children. A judge had issued a restraining order against the Hughes and Ferrell, according to WHNS-TV's review of the records.

Grounsell said forensic investigators found evidence of blood throughout the kitchen that was cleaned before police arrived Saturday night, and no one in the family mentioned any fight in that room.