CHARLESTON -- Joe Lukaitis Sr. stood and held up a photo of himself, his daughter, and twin grandchildren -- all smiles in the frozen image of a family now broken.
Grasping the picture and memories of his daughter, he fought back tears in a Charleston County courtroom Friday.
"It was the last time we got to be together," he told the judge.
His daughter, Alexis Lukaitis of Bluffton, was violently killed in 2010, and the man accused of her murder, Darold Drayton, 35, was found guilty Friday and sentenced to life in prison.
Lukaitis was the mother of twin boys and was living with her fiancè, whom she'd been in a relationship with for nearly 10 years. But Lukaitis had a drug problem involving prescription pills, according to court testimony, and it led her to drive to Charleston on Aug. 8, 2010, with Drayton.
She drove her car, and Drayton paid for gas and give her a few pills, according to prosecutors.
The two had known each other for about a year, and 27-year-old Lukaitis told her fiancè, Michael Bartley, she'd be back that night.
But she never came home.
Bartley spoke to her at 8:19 p.m., according to prosecutors. She told him she was in the car with Drayton, whom they referred to as "D" and who sometimes went by "Darryl." Bartley heard a man say, "Take a right here."
Her final words to Bartley: She loved him and she'd be home in about an hour.
But as an hour, then another, then another passed, Bartley became frantic. He told The Island Packet in a 2010 interview that he called Lukaitis repeatedly until nearly 2 a.m. He finally was able to reach Drayton sometime after 9 a.m. the next morning. He said Drayton told him that he hadn't seen Lukaitis, that she never picked him up for the trip to Charleston.
Bartley didn't believe him.
He called hospitals and jails, even drove along U.S. 17 looking for signs of her. At 7 a.m. the next day, Aug. 9, 2010, a logger found Lukaitis' body beside a dirt road in southern Charleston County.
What happened in the hours in between was argued by attorneys and investigators this week in a Charleston County courtroom.
Drayton's cousin, Steven Edwards, testified about what he found outside his Bluffton home shortly after Lukaitis disappeared.
Edwards told Beaufort County investigators at the time and again in court this week that Drayton knocked on the back door of his home at about 7:30 a.m. the morning after Lukaitis' disappearance. Drayton asked to be driven to the hospital for a cut on his hand he said he received after getting into a fight in Beaufort. Drayton also asked to be taken to a jewelry store, Edwards testified, so he could sell a ring -- Lukaitis' engagement ring, as it turned out.
When Edwards returned home, he discovered a spare tire, tire cover and other items splattered with blood around a trash can in his backyard. A subsequent search of Edwards' home by Beaufort County investigators yielded a black diaper bag and other items later discovered missing from Lukaitis' 2001 Pontiac Grand Prix, which was found by Bluffton police two days later, abandoned in the Oyster Factory Park parking lot.
Investigators with the S.C. Law Enforcement Division's Crimes Scene Unit found blood on the interior and exterior of the car, as well as inside its trunk.
When Lukaitis' body was discovered the morning after her murder, she had three slits across her neck; her trachea and esophagus were severed. She had several other puncture wounds, cuts, bruises and defensive wounds on her hands, 9th Circuit Assistant Solicitor Jennifer Shealy said. Drayton also tried strangling Lukaitis and burning her body, according to prosecutors.
No one knows exactly where this happened, except that it was in Charleston County, according to cellphone records.
Judge J.C. Nicholson sentenced Drayton to life in prison without parole because of his prior conviction for armed robbery.
That wasn't Drayton's only previous offense. Bartley told the Packet in 2010 that though he and Lukaitis had known Drayton for about a year, they had no idea he had three armed-robbery convictions and multiple drug convictions or that he was required to register as a sex offender because of a 2005 conviction for committing a lewd act upon a minor.
Drayton's attorney, public defender Ashley Pennington, declined to comment after the verdict.
"She was supposed to bury me. I wasn't supposed to bury her," Lukaitis' father said in court. "As crazy as it sounds, she's finally at peace. He can't hurt nobody else."
The (Charleston) Post and Courier contributed to this report.
- Police: Suspect sold victim's ring day after Lukaitis' murder, Sept. 26, 2010
- Lukaitis murder timeline and aftermath, Sept. 26, 2010
- Suspect in Bluffton mother's murder held without bail, Aug. 27, 2010
- Murder victim's family on suspect: 'He knew this would destroy us', August 13, 2010
- Convicted sex offender charged in Bluffton woman's murder, August 12, 2010