GREENVILLE, S.C. – Sixteen years after her husband was gunned down in a motorcycle shop , Melissa Brackman and her teenage son were face-to-face with the killer inside a South Carolina courtroom.
Todd Christopher Kohlhepp, convicted of killing seven people, heard a resounding message of forgiveness.
Brackman, her son, Kohlhepp, and family members of another victim were in court Friday for two damages hearings in the wrongful death lawsuits filed in light of Kohlhepp's murderous path.
Scott Ponder, the owner of Superbike Motorsports, was shot and killed Nov. 6, 2003 alongside friend and shop manager Brian Lucas, mother and store bookkeeper Beverly Guy, and shop mechanic Chris Sherbert.
The killings became notorious in South Carolina, having gone unsolved for 13 years, until Kohlhepp confessed to the murders.
Kohlhepp was arrested Nov. 3, 2016 when Kala Brown, who was missing from Anderson for two months, was found chained in a locked shipping container on Kohlhepp 96-acre Woodruff property. Kohlhepp was also tied to the killings of Charlie David Carver, Johnny Coxie and Meagan Coxie, whose bodies were found in shallow graves on the property.
Serial Killer: Kohlhepp recalled as great salesman with chilling quirks
'I forgive you'
"Mr. Kohlhepp, I forgive you," said Brackman, Ponder's widow.
She put on reading glasses and took a deep breath before giving her testimony.
"I hurt not only for myself but my heart hurts for you as well," she said, wiping tears from her face. "I cannot imagine the things you must feel or have felt to do the things you have done and it makes me sad."
Kohlhepp sat quietly across from her. He remained seated, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and chains around his hands and waist.
Brackman said after the hearing that she feels Kohlhepp took her message seriously, and murmured the words "I'm sorry" to her as she walked back to her seat.
"I absolutely feel like he took that to heart," Brackman said. "I looked right at him as I was talking to him and as I was walking down he nodded his head to me and said, 'I'm sorry.'"
Brackman, who now lives in Arizona, traveled to South Carolina with her son, Scott Ponder Jr., 15, to give statements to the serial killer in a final hearing before Circuit Court Judge Mark Hayes makes a determination on an amount of damages to be awarded in the suit.
Circuit judges have already made rulings in the separate lawsuits involving Brown and the Coxie family, and have already held a damages hearing for the families of the other victims in the Superbike case.
After Kohlhepp's arrest, he explained to investigators that the Superbike Motorsports murders stemmed from him feeling that the Superbike staff were involved in the theft of his recent motorcycle purchase. Kohlhepp also said that the staff, including Scott Ponder, poked fun at his ability to ride a motorcycle.
In recorded interrogations, Kohlhepp also bragged to investigators about his tactics, saying "you guys would have been proud."
Brackman took the time in court to apologize for how Kohlhepp's said her husband and other Superbike employees treated him.
"I want to formally apologize to you Mr. Kohlhepp for whatever Scott or Brian (Lucas) said to you or did to you while you were doing business with them that made you feel less of a person or mad," she said. "I’m sorry you felt deceived."
Brackman said outside the courtroom that Superbike Motorsports was a family business. She wants Kohlhepp to know that the men who ran the store always had the best intentions.
Scott Ponder Jr., who was still in Brackman's womb at the time of the murders, also spoke in court Friday.
"I never met them (Ponder and Guy, Ponder Jr.'s grandmother), but I am living proof there can be a bright spot in the wake of a tragedy," Ponder Jr. said. "Mr. Kohlhepp, even though I never met my dad or grandma, I do not wish you ill will."
Carver's family to Kohlhepp: 'I don't hate you'
A damages hearing for the lawsuit involving the estate of Charlie David Carver was also held after Brackman's case Friday.
"When I lost contact with David, something told me something was wrong," said Joanne Shiflet, Charlie David Carver's mother. "It's been the biggest, emptiest feeling that I never want anybody else to go through. I just miss him so much."
Shiflet also expressed sympathy to Kohlhepp.
"I pray you can find strength to get you through whatever you're facing," Shiflet said. "I'm doing my best to say that I forgive you. I'm not fully there yet, but I don't hate you."
Shiflet described Charlie David Carver as comical and friendly, someone who always had a sense of humor.
"He was my best friend. We could talk about anything and everything. He knew that if he ever needed anything, we’d be there," Shiflet said. She said not a day goes by that she doesn't think about him.
Chuck Carver, Charlie David Carver's father, said his son was a caring person.
“It's just been very hard on us. In all my days I never would have dreamed this would have happened,” Chuck Carver said in court, fighting back tears. “He never hurt anybody. Not a single person could say a bad thing about him."
Chuck Carver said the day authorities found Charlie David Carver's body buried in a shallow grave was the "most devastating point in my life."
"I think about it every day," he said.
The hearings come the same week after the first episode in a three-part special aired on Investigation Discovery (ID) that shines light on the life and crimes of Kohlhepp.
The show has raised theories surrounding whether Kohlhepp gave a false confession to the Superbike murders to build his profile as a serial killer and how the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office overlooked Kohlhepp as a suspect when he was highlighted on a customer list shortly after the murders.
Follow Daniel J. Gross on Twitter: @danieljgross.
This article originally appeared on The Greenville News: Inside the courtroom of Todd Kohlhepp serial killer case