Crime & Public Safety

‘Thought I was playing?’: Friends testify about moment teen killed on Hilton Head beach

John Ira Duncan III threatened to kill 17-year-old Dominique Williams in the days before the teen was shot and killed near Coligny Beach on Hilton Head Island, Williams’ friends testified Tuesday afternoon in the Beaufort County Courthouse.

Duncan, now 19 — he was 15 at the time of the shooting on July 19, 2015 — is being tried on a murder charge in connection with Williams’ death. He was arrested and charged two days after the shooting, when he was turned in to law enforcement by his family.

Duncan is being tried as an adult.

Two of Williams’ friends, Jestin Morrow, now 20, and Devon Williams, now 21, were standing next to him when he was shot and killed, they both testified.

Morrow took the stand first.

The conflict between Duncan and Dominique Williams began two days before the shooting, according to Morrow’s testimony and previous reporting.

John Ira Duncan III, left, listens as his defense attorney Jeffrey Stephens, standing, questions Jestin Morrow, not pictured, on Tuesday afternoon at his murder trial at Beaufort County Courthouse. Drew Martin

Morrow said that, on that day, he and Dominique Williams with another friend drove to Duncan’s house on Hilton Head’s south end so Dominique Williams could buy weed. He said Duncan handed about three grams of marijuana through the car window, and Williams drove away without paying.

Minutes later, Duncan sent Morrow a message on Snapchat saying, “Tell him I’ve got a bullet waiting for him,” Morrow testified.

The next day, a group of high school boys got together to watch Duncan and Dominique Williams fight, Morrow said. He recorded a Snapchat video, which was played in court, showing the two throwing punches at each other.

Jestin Morrow, left, takes a moment to think after watching a video of a fight between Dominique Williams and John Ira Duncan III a day before Williams was killed. Drew Martin

Afterward, the group went into a friend’s home, and Devon Williams made the two teens shake hands, both friends testified.

“We thought that would just end it,” Morrow said. “But, John said, ‘F--- the fight. If I don’t get my stuff back, he’s dead regardless.’”

The evening of the shooting — a Sunday — Dominique Williams, Devon Williams and Morrow hung out together on Hilton Head, played mini-golf on the island and walked around the Coligny area. When they were walking toward the beach access, they saw Duncan, Morrow said.

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Dominique Williams, 17, was killed in July 2015 at Coligny Beach Park on Hilton Head Island. Submitted

Morrow said Duncan was screaming and walking toward them.

“Thought it was a game? Thought it was a game? Thought I was playing?” Duncan yelled, according to Morrow.

Morrow testified that Duncan took a gun that had been inside a purple Crown Royal bag out of his pants and shot Dominique Williams.

“Yeah, that’s what you get. You thought I was playing,” Morrow recalled Duncan saying.

Devon Williams testified next, corroborating Morrow’s testimony.

Both friends were asked about multiple videos, including footage from Town of Hilton Head Island security cameras that captured the shooting from afar.

In addition to Morrow and Devon Williams’ testimony, the jury heard on Tuesday from multiple witnesses, including Alex Contello, a tourist from New York who heard the gunshot then filmed the chaos that immediately followed, and Saul Brown, a soldier on leave from a military base in Virginia, who performed CPR until EMS arrived.

Duncan’s trial is expected to continue on Wednesday morning.

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Lana Ferguson has reported on a smorgasbord of news for The Island Packet & Beaufort Gazette since June 2018. Before coming to the Lowcountry, she worked for publications in her home state of Virginia and graduated from the University of Mississippi, where she was editor of the college’s daily newspaper.
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