Hart found guilty of murder for hire near South Congaree & Edmund
Lexington, SC - Eleventh Circuit Solicitor Rick Hubbard announced today that a twenty-eight (28) year old Lexington County man was sentenced to fifty (50) years in prison for the 2013 murder of Paula Justice, forty-three (43) also of Lexington County. After a week-long trial, the jury deliberated for four and a half hours before returning the guilty verdict, convicting John Christopher Hart of murder.
Around 11:39 pm on April 10, 2013, a man driving a truck on Greenwood Dr. near Edmund Highway heard what he believed to be a gunshot. He then drove down Lumberjack Drive finding Justice on the side of the road, bleeding from the head and unresponsive. Justice was pronounced dead at Lexington Medical Center. An autopsy revealed that she had been shot one time in the head with a .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun.
In opening statements, Assistant Solicitor Robby McNair, told the jury that “Paula was on a one way ride with a killer and that the killer was John Christopher Hart.”
Testimony revealed that Hart and a co-defendant picked up Justice from the Waffle House parking lot near Hwy 378 and I-20 shortly before her murder. Evidence revealed that the killing was a murder for hire. Justice and another individual, Jeremy Pugh Washington of Gaston, had been arrested in May of 2012 by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department and charged with Trafficking in Crack Cocaine, 28-100 grams. Justice had pled to a lesser charge and had sentencing deferred as she was going to testify against Washington. Within a month of being released on bond, Justice was killed.
Phone records revealed that there were approximately forty-four (44) calls or texts between Washington and Hart in a three day period that stopped shortly after Justice’s murder. Testimony indicated that Hart had told people that Washington had hired him to kill Justice. After the murder, Hart fled to New York. Washington’s murder charge is currently pending.
During closing arguments, Deputy Solicitor Shawn Graham asked the jury to convict Hart arguing that they were in the presence of evil and that Hart executed Justice in cold blood.
During sentencing, Hart maintained his innocence. Solicitor Hubbard praised his staff and law enforcement
for their hard work, and stated that “although nothing would bring Paula back that he hoped the verdict and sentence would bring some measure of peace and closure to Paula’s family.”