A man accused of murder in the 2016 beating death of his sister at her Woodstock home pleaded guilty, but mentally ill this week in Cherokee County Superior Court.

Joseph Twilley, 57, pleaded guilty but mentally ill to malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, and theft of a motor vehicle. He was sentenced to life in prison. Twilley had previously been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and admitted he had stopped taking medications before the fatal attack.

State mental health officials had told the court that Twilley understood right from wrong at the time he beat his sister to death with a piece of wood and was competent to stand trial.

Twilley was accused of killing his sister Karen Twilley in November 2016 at the Woodstock home she shared with their mother, Evelyn Twilley. In addition to severe trauma to her head, an autopsy also showed evidence of strangulation.

During the plea hearing this week, Twilley admitted to murdering his sister, who was also his legal guardian because of his mental illness.

Twilley told the court that after beating his sister, he stood over her body for a few minutes until she stopped breathing, before covering her body with a blanket, taking the keys to his mother’s car and driving away.

After stealing his mother’s car, he drove as far away as Mississippi, changed his clothes, replaced the car’s tag with a stolen Tennessee license plate, and ended up back at his Woodstock apartment, where he was arrested.

“This case destroyed a family. Twilley’s mother lost both her children after years upon years of attempting to address her son’s mental health issues. Mr. Twilley was found responsible for his crimes under the law because he still knew right from wrong when he killed his sister; however, it’s a prime example of the limitations of the systems we currently have in place,” said Cherokee County District Attorney Shannon Wallace. “The sad truth is Mr. Twilley is a tremendous danger to society. The life sentence he received is appropriate so that his mental health will always be monitored.”

Twilley told Superior Court Judge Ellen McElyea that he was angry because he thought his sister had taken money from him and that he blamed her for losing custody of a child more than a decade earlier. Karen Twilley had previously told friends and family that she feared her brother might someday hurt her.

“Evidence at the scene of the crime, such as the fact that the defendant wore gloves at the time of the murder and had unscrewed the outside light, and his own statements prove that his actions were premeditated. He went to see his sister that night with the intention of murdering her,” said Assistant District Attorney William Hunter. “The Cherokee Sheriff’s Office did an excellent job investigating this case. They arrested the defendant within two days, and he has been in custody ever since.”

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