It has been over 20 years since the murder of 17-year-old Jessica Lynne Carpenter, and convicted killer Robert Franklin Atkins was later sentenced to two life sentences for her murder. The story will be shown on Investigation Discovery’s Hometown Homicide Mystery.
Every year on the anniversary of her daughter’s death, Judy Carpenter honors the anniversary by placing a memorial in the Aiken Standard newspaper. Jessica Carpenter was the youngest of three sisters, played in the school band and worked as a hostess at the local Red Lobster.
On August 4, 2000, Judy Carpenter arrived home to find Jessica having been murdered in their home. Her official cause of death was internal bleeding and lack of oxygen, according to then-Aiken County Coroner Sue Townsend.
After over two years of investigation, Robert Franklin Atkins was identified by police as Jessica Carpenter’s killer.
Atkins Is Serving Two Consecutive Life Sentences
Atkins was already serving time in prison at the time he was connected to Carpenter’s murder. He was serving time for second-degree burglary when his DNA was matched to samples collected at the crime scene.
In the months after the murder, investigators interviewed 300 people and submitted over 100 DNA samples to the state database, but they failed to find a match or a suspect at the time. At one point, police were even considering serial killer Reinaldo Rivera as a suspect.
Rivera had been arrested just months after the murder and had operated in the area, and Carpenter matched his victim profile. His DNA failed to match, however.
Atkins later led investigators to the murder weapon, which was a bloody knife wrapped in a T-shirt that was buried under a pile of brush, according to the Aiken Standard. The knife was located near U.S. Highway 1.
On May 23, 2006, WIS News reported that Atkins pleaded guilty to five charges including criminal sexual conduct in the first degree and murder. He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.
According to the report, Atkins apologized to the Carpenter family.
Atkins Was Working as a Delivery Driver at the Time of the Murder
Investigators determined that Atkins had been working as a delivery driver for a company contracted to make deliveries for Airborne Express, leading him to meet Jessica Carpenter.
Carpenter’s father, Charlie Carpenter, sued the delivery company in 2003, saying that Seattle-based Airborne express Inc. and a subcontractor were negligent when they hired the man without a criminal background check.
According to the lawsuit, Atkins saw Jessica Carpenter when he delivered a package to her home a few days before the murder. He later returned while wearing his delivery uniform. The lawsuit claims the company endangered the victim and others by not conducting a criminal background check on Atkins.
Prior to being hired, his record included felony burglary, escape and weapons charges. A spokesperson at the time told Go Upstate that Airborne Express would not talk about the suit.
Atkins is currently being held in Perry County at the time of writing, according to the South Carolina Department of Corrections. He is serving two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.