The inside story of the serial killer who seduced the South, and the prosecutor who pursued him to South Carolina’s electric chair. Want to be the first to get the details? Sign up for alerts below.
Richard “Dick” Ara Harpootlian is one of South Carolina’s leading courtroom advocates with 30 years of trial experience as a prosecutor, defense attorney, and civil litigator. Mr. Harpootlian’s dynamic and persuasive advocacy style and record of success has earned him a reputation amongst South Carolina’s legal community as a lawyer who can get results.
Mr. Harpootlian began his career as a prosecutor in the Fifth Circuit Solicitor’s Office. Within two years, he was named Deputy Solicitor and tasked with the administration and supervision of over 20 prosecutors and staff members. As the Fifth Circuit’s chief homicide prosecutor, Mr. Harpootlian personally prosecuted hundreds of murder cases, including 12 death penalty cases. He defended one of those convictions on appeal before the United States Supreme Court.
In 1983, Mr. Harpootlian earned a conviction in the prosecution of Donald “Pee Wee” Gaskins—South Carolina’s most notorious serial killer.
He currently serves as a member of the South Carolina Senate from the 20th district.
Donald Henry “Pee Wee” Gaskins Jr. (1933-1991)
Born Donald Henry Parrott Jr., Gaskins was an American serial killer and rapist. Before his convictions for murder, Gaskins had a long history of criminal activities resulting in prison sentences for assault, burglary, and statutory rape. During a search for a missing teenager in 1975, police discovered eight bodies buried in shallow graves near Gaskins’s home in Prospect, South Carolina.
In May 1976, a Florence County jury took only 47 minutes before finding Gaskins guilty for the murder of one of the eight victims, Dennis Bellamy, and sentenced him to death by the electric chair. That sentence was overturned by the SC Supreme Court in February 1978. Rather than face a new trial, Gaskins pled guilty to the murders of Bellamy and eight other friends and associates. He was given 10 concurrent life sentences, to be served at Central Correctional Institution (CCI). While at CCI, Gaskins received his second death sentence after being convicted of the brutal murder of fellow death row inmate Rudolph Tyner using C4 explosive. The sentence was administered in September 1991.
While on death row, Gaskins claimed to kill as many as 110 people, but these statements have been discredited. Of the fifteen people total that he murdered during his lifetime, ten were under age 25 and six were teenagers.