Pernell Thompson and his wife, Yolanda, are behind bars for murdering 16-year-old Marisha Jeter, whose body was found in a river in Chester County, South Carolina.
At around 9:30 p.m. on Jan. 3, 2008, Marisha told her father, who was a Union County School Board member at the time, that she was going to get some food from a McDonald’s restaurant nearby and she would be back.
The Union County High School cheerleader kissed him goodbye, walked out of the house, got into her bright pink 1994 Toyota Celica, a present she received for her sixteenth birthday, and drove off.
When an hour went by and she hadn’t returned, her father called her cellphone, but he didn’t get an answer. That’s when he got into his car and drove through the town of Union in an attempt to find her, but he was unsuccessful, according to ABC News.
At around 1 a.m. the following morning, he reported Marisha missing, and an Amber Alert was issued.
Detectives considered the possibility of Marisha running away from home, but her family debunked those claims.
They said she didn’t have a reason to leave a place where she was popular and well-loved by the people in the community.
Relatives then thought of Marisha’s then-20-year-old ex-boyfriend, Pernell, who her father didn’t approve of.
He thought they had ended their relationship, as Pernell had gone on to have a baby and marry a woman named Yolanda in the summer of 2007.
But just a few days before Marisha went missing, her father stated that Pernell and his wife went to their home and admitted to still seeing his daughter.
When detectives questioned Pernell, a junior football player at Wingate University in North Carolina at the time, about Marisha’s disappearance, he said he didn’t know anything about it.
In the afternoon of Jan. 5, 2008, the search for Marisha came to a poignant end. Her partially clothed body was found in a river, about 10 to 15 minutes outside of town.
According to The Gaffney Ledger, a Spartanburg art student was taking pictures of the Broad River, which is located in Lockhart, when she noticed something peculiar in the water.
Using the zoom feature on her camera, she was able to see that the object was a body, and she immediately notified the police.
Marisha’s body was recovered from the water and sent to the medical examiner’s office for an autopsy, which revealed she died from multiple stab wounds.
On Jan. 6, 2008, detectives were notified that the South Carolina Highway Patrol had located Marisha’s vehicle the night before.
It was found burning on the side of the roadway.
When they extinguished the fire, the vehicle was so badly burned that they weren’t immediately able to identify who it was registered to.
After detectives learned that Marisha’s vehicle had been torched, their focus was once again on Pernell.
During their previous interview with the athlete, they noticed he had burn scars on his face and hands.
Although he told them that he got burned while cooking at his grandmother’s house, they were still suspicious.
Pernell returned to the police station for the second time, and again, detectives noticed something—his shoes.
He was wearing a Nike Air Force 1 shoe, which was the same type of shoe that left an impression at the crime scene.
When detectives presented him with all of their findings, Pernell confessed to killing Marisha.
He claimed that when his wife found out he was having an affair with Marisha, she was upset. Yolanda then asked him to prove that he loved her.
That’s when he sent Marisha a text message, asking her to meet him in the parking lot behind the YMCA.
Pernell said he told Marisha he wanted her to return his jacket, and she obliged.
When she arrived and got out of the vehicle, The Index-Journal reported that he then began stabbing her in the neck more than 30 times while Yolanda held her down.
Afterward, the couple put Marisha’s body in the trunk of her car and drove to Lockhart, where they dumped her body in the river and set her car on fire in another county.
Pernell and Yolanda, who did not have a criminal record before the incident, were arrested and booked into the Union County Jail on charges of murder, kidnapping, and criminal conspiracy.
A spokesperson at Wingate University stated that after Pernell’s arrest, the school placed him on interim suspension.
According to The Greenville News, the university’s football coach stated that “everyone is in shock at this point. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victim.”
On March 6, 2009, Yolanda pleaded guilty to the charges and agreed to testify against her husband after learning that prosecutors were seeking the death penalty.
Pernell initially entered a not guilty plea, but later pleaded guilty to the charges to avoid being put to death.
He then apologized to the victim’s family.
“I know that she’s in heaven,” he added. “I know she’s happy, and that’s one thing giving me peace. I pray, I hope, for forgiveness, but I know I don’t need it. I received forgiveness from her.”
Marisha’s father told him: “You’re going straight to [expletive] and there ain’t nothing nobody can do to help you.”
Before sentencing, Yolanda became emotional when she asked Marisha’s family to forgive her. She told them that she was “not an awful person, but I did an awful thing.”
The victim’s father reportedly called Yolanda a “demon who stole my baby’s life.”
According to The Herald, Yolanda’s attorney asked the judge for mercy, claiming that she had been unable to have a healthy relationship with a man after suffering sexual abuse as a child.
“This was a brutal killing and kidnapping,” the judge told her. “I see no reason to treat you differently from Mr. Thompson.”
The judge sentenced Pernell and Yolanda to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of Marisha Jeter.