James Roach and Ronald Mahaffey


Murder of Betty Swank

Victim: Betty Swank, 21

Murderers: Joseph Shaw, 22, James Roach, 17, Ronald Mahaffey, 16, & Robert Williams

Crime date: October 17, 1977

Crimes: Kidnapping, abduction, rape, & murder

Weapon: Firearm

Murder method: Gunshots

Murders of Carlotta Hartness and Tommy Taylor

Victims: Carlotta Hartness, 14, & Tommy Taylor, 17

Murderers: Joseph Shaw, 22, James Roach, 17, & Ronald Mahaffey, 16

Crime date: October 29, 1977

Crimes: Armed robbery, kidnapping, abduction, rape, murder, & corpse mutilation

Weapon: .22 caliber rifle

Murder method: Gunshots to the victims’ heads

James Roach

Convictions: Guilty plea to murder, rape, kidnapping & armed robbery, & nolo contendere plea to conspiracy

Sentence: Death

Incarceration status: Executed in 1986

Ronald Mahaffey

Convictions: Guilty plea to murder, conspiracy, rape, kidnapping, & armed robbery

Sentence: Life in prison

Shaw, Roach, Williams, and Mahaffey kidnapped, raped and murdered Betty. Almost two weeks later, Shaw, Roach, and Mahaffey robbed and murdered Tommy and kidnapped young Carlotta. They took Carlotta to a dirt road where all three of them gang raped her. Roach and Shaw shot her in the head. Later, Shaw returned and mutilated her body.

The assailants pleaded guilty to the murders. Shaw and Roach were sentenced to death and executed.

The crimes

October 16, Shaw’s relationship with a woman abruptly ended. According to Finding Life on Death Row, which profiles Shaw, the former military policeman took drugs causing the voices in his head to intensify. He, Roach, and Mahaffey decided to find a woman to rape and murder. And that woman was Betty Swank.

“[Shaw’s] only coping mechanism at this point was losing himself in drugs and alcohol, which he did all that night and the following day. As he did so, the voices intensified. They told him to get back at [ex-girl friend] and all the women who could hurt him. They told him to get revenge. Williams, Roach, and Mahaffey were also there. By nightfall on October 17, 1977, their drug-induced ranting evolved into a plan to go out and find a woman to rape.

Finding Life on Death Row: Profiles of Six Inmates
By Katya Lezin

The four men kidnapped and raped Betty, who was the mother to a 15-month-old son. They then shot her to death.

12 days later after Betty’s murder, 17-year-old Tommy and 14-year-old Carlotta went out to do research for a school paper Tommy was writing about his county’s historic district. They were confronted by Shaw, Mahaffey, and Roach. The three assailants, who were armed with a .22 caliber rifle, had previously decided “to see if we could find a girl to rape.” They robbed Tommy of his wallet and keys and forced Carlotta into their car. The robbers then shot Tommy in the face and murdered him. Shaw, Roach, and Mahaffey kidnapped Carlotta and took her to a dirt road, forced her to undress, and gang-raped her. The terrifying details are given below. They then forced the teenage girl to put her head on the ground. The girl pleaded for her life. Roach ignored her pleas and shot her in the head, causing her to convulse. Roach shot her in the head again. This shot gave the gang-rapists what they wanted-Carlotta’s death. Later that night, Shaw came back to the scene of Carlotta’s murder and mutilated her body, cutting her breast and pubic area with broken glass and inserting sticks inside her body.


Shaw, Roach, and Ronald Eugene Mahaffey spent the morning of Saturday, October 29, 1977, “shooting up” with drugs and drinking beer. At approximately 1 :00 that afternoon the three decided, in Mahaffey’s words, “to see if we could find a girl to rape.”

Shaw, Roach, and Mahaffey drove to Polo Park, a baseball park, located off Alpine Road northeast of Columbia. There they saw a parked late model car occupied by Thomas Taylor, aged 17, and Carlotta Hartness, aged 14.

Shaw, who was driving, pulled up beside the parked car in such a way that Roach, who was in the front passenger’s seat, was directly across from Taylor, the driver of the parked car. Mahaffey was in the back seat.

At a prearranged signal from Shaw, Roach leveled a .22 caliber rifle through the car window at Taylor and demanded money. Taylor gave the three his wallet.

Shaw and Mahaffey got out of their car and Mahaffey took the keys out of Taylor’s car. Shaw ordered Ms. Hartness out of Taylor’s car and forced her into the back seat of his car with Mahaffey. Shaw got back into his car, turned to Roach and said, “Ok, now.” Roach then shot and killed young Taylor who was still sitting in his parked car.

Ms. Hartness was carried to a dirt road a short distance away where she was forced to disrobe. Shaw raped Ms. Hartness while Roach and Mahaffey looked through Taylor’s wallet. Roach then raped Ms. Hartness. Shaw raped Ms. Hartness a second time while Mahaffey forced her to perform oral sex. Mahaffey then raped Ms. Hartness while Shaw forced her to perform oral sex.

Shaw asked who would shoot Ms. Hartness and Roach volunteered. Shaw instructed Ms. Hartness to put her face to the ground but she refused. Shaw drew a circle in the dirt and drew an “X” inside the circle and told Ms. Hartness to place her head in the circle. Ms. Hartness again refused and pleaded for her life. Shaw told Ms. Hartness a third time to place her head on the ground and she complied. Roach shot Ms. Hartness in the head, causing her body to convulse. Shaw then took the rifle from Roach and fired into Ms. Hartness’s head, killing her.

Shaw, Roach, and Mahaffey left the scene, disposed of the rifle and bullets, and returned to Polo Park to satisfy themselves that Taylor was dead.

Later that night Shaw returned to the scene of Ms. Hartness’s murder and mutilated her body by cutting her breasts and pubic area with broken glass and by inserting sticks in her vagina and anus.

State v. Shaw

Criminal proceedings

The killers were arrested and charged. Roach, Mahaffey, and Shaw pleaded guilty to the murders of Carlotta and Tommy. Mahaffey was sentenced to life in prison in exchange for testimony against his accomplices. Roach and Shaw were sentenced to death.

Shaw, Roach, and Mahaffey were arrested on November 3, 1977. Each was indicted for two counts of murder, two counts of conspiracy, rape, kidnapping, and armed robbery. The State elected to seek the death penalty for Shaw and Roach and served the Notices required by Section 16-3-20 (B) and Section 16-3-26(A), Cum. Supp. 1978.

As the result of plea negotiations the State did not seek the death penalty against Mahaffey in exchange for his testimony against Shaw and Roach.

On December 12, 1977 Shaw pled guilty to all charges. Roach pled guilty to two counts of murder, rape, kidnapping and armed robbery, and pled nolo contendere to two counts of conspiracy.

A separate pre-sentence hearing was conducted as required by Section 16-3-20(B), Cum. Supp. 1978, on December 14, 15 and 16, 1977. At this hearing evidence in extenuation, mitigation and aggravation was introduced. The trial judge found aggravating circumstances and imposed sentences of death upon both Shaw and Roach.

State v. Shaw

All four men involved in Betty’s murder pleaded guilty and were sentenced to life in prison.

Shaw and Roach were executed in 1985 and 1986, respectively.

James Terry Roach died in the state’s electric chair shortly before dawn today, despite international protests that juvenile offenders should not be executed.

Mr. Roach was pronounced dead at 5:16 A.M., nine minutes after receiving the first of two electrical surges. He was executed for the brutal killings of Tommy Taylor, 17, and Carlotta Hartness, 14, in late October 1977. Another defendant, Joseph C. Shaw, then 22, was executed last year. A third man, Ronald Mahaffey, was a state’s witness and was sentenced to life in prison.



State v. Shaw

“I didn’t just lose Carlotta that day”

A look back at 10 notorious death penalty cases from the Midlands


Finding Life on Death Row: Profiles of Six Inmates
By Katya Lezin