Crime & Public Safety

Jury takes less than 10 minutes to find Hilton Head teen guilty in Coligny Beach killing

After less than 10 minutes of deliberation Thursday, a Beaufort County jury found John Ira Duncan III, 19, of Hilton Head Island, guilty of murder in the July 19, 2015, shooting death of 17-year-old Dominique Williams near Coligny Beach.

Duncan — who was 15 at the time of the shooting — stood emotionless as the verdict was read and he was handcuffed. Gasps from Williams’ family echoed throughout the courtroom.

Duncan, who was tried as an adult, will be sentenced at a later date that has not been determined.

“When (Duncan) found (Williams), he walked up to him and shot him in point-blank range with a .40-caliber handgun he got that day to do just this,” 14th Circuit Solictor Duffie Stone, who is prosecuting the case, said Thursday morning during closing arguments.

Stone said Duncan did not act out of self-defense as he testified Wednesday.

Instead, Stone said Duncan wanted respect.

“The irony of this case is that he got the respect,” Stone said. “How did he do it? He killed for it.”

Duncan was the final of 19 people — including Williams’ friends who were standing feet away from him when he was shot, tourists who were nearby when the shooting happened, Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office deputies, medical experts, and Duncan’s mother who saw him inside their Hilton Head home before and after the shooting — who testified Tuesday and Wednesday.

He admitted that he shot Williams but said it was because he feared for his life.

Duncan said he was carrying the gun — which was never recovered by law enforcement — for protection but that he didn’t know what type of gun it was, where he got it from or what happened to it after the shooting.

“Arming yourself thinking there might be trouble because you’ve been robbed ... that doesn’t make you an aggressor,” Beaufort County public defender Jeffrey Stephens said. “It’s pretty scary stuff, especially for a 15-year-old.”

Duncan said he wasn’t mad at Williams despite Williams stealing $60 worth of weed from him and fist-fighting him in the days before the shooting.

Duncan said after he walked up to Williams and his friends near Coligny Beach about 8:20 p.m. on July 19, 2015, he saw Williams reach for something, so he pulled the gun from his waistband and shot it without aiming and ran away.

The interaction lasted seconds.

“I didn’t know if I actually hit something,” Duncan said.

The fired bullet struck Williams just under one of his eyes and traveled through his brain before breaking through his skull, Dr. Susan Erin Presnell, a medical examiner at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, testified Tuesday. She said Williams would have died within seconds.

Duncan was arrested and charged two days later, when he was turned in to law enforcement by his family. He has been in jail since that day and will remain incarcerated through his sentencing.

Those found guilty of murder can be sentenced to serve anywhere between 30 years and life, according to S.C. law.

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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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