Crime & Public Safety

He was released from prison in April. Now he’s charged with murdering a Beaufort woman

Since 1994 — the year Jermaine Lemonte Thurston turned 18 — the Seabrook man, now 42, has been in and out of Beaufort County Detention Center and S.C. prisons for violent crimes.

On Tuesday, out of prison less than five months, Thurston was arrested in the murder of Theresa Coker, a 70-year-old Beaufort resident.

Forensic evidence links Thurston, who was released from prison in April, to the brutal Oct. 2 crime, according to Beaufort Police Department press releases.

Coker’s body was found by employees of her rental company on Oct. 9 at her Polk Street Home. Her vehicle was discovered in Seabrook a day later.

She died from blunt force trauma and strangulation, according to an autopsy the police department released this month.

The police department has not said whether there was any indication that Thurston and Coker knew each other.

Jermaine Lemonte Thurston Beaufort County Detention Center

A long rap sheet

In 1994, Thurston was convicted of simple assault and battery, malicious injury, trespassing larceny, purse snatching and non-violent burglary He spent more than a month in Beaufort County jail that year and was sentenced to five years on probation.

Court records show he was convicted three more times of trespassing in 1995 and 1996, but other charges, such as assault and battery and pointing and presenting a firearm, were dismissed.

At age 20, he was admitted to prison for the first time in South Carolina, in February 1997 for a 1995 conviction of possession of a weapon. He was released on parole that November.

A few months later, in March 1998, Thurston was arrested on a second-degree burglary charge. In April, he was charged with criminal domestic violence, though that charge was dismissed. He was sentenced in January 1999 to eight years in prison for the burglary.

S.C. Department of Corrections spokeswoman Chrysti Shain said Thurston was granted parole on Nov. 7, 2001, after serving less than two years.

A S.C. Law Enforcement Division background check shows multiple arrests between 2004 and 2006, but DOC records don’t show him back in prison until June 2006 — for an assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.

Shain said he was released in December 2006 in that case.

While Beaufort County court records show Thurston was charged in 2007 and 2008 with a couple of crimes, he was sent to prison in 2009 for his longest stretch.

In August 2009, Thurston pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 years for armed robbery and 20 years for assault and battery with intent to kill.

Judge Jeffrey Young, now deputy attorney general, reduced the sentences, allowing them to run concurrently for 12 years.

Thurston was released from prison in April of this year after serving 85 percent of his sentence, said Shain, the DOC spokeswoman.

The S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services began overseeing Thurston’s community supervision in May, the department’s spokesman, Pete O’Boyle, said Wednesday.

“He had only been out a couple months before he started having issues,” O’Boyle said.

Thurston started missing check-ins with parole agents and also failed to pay some fees, O’Boyle said.

The largest infraction was failing to notify the department after the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department interviewed him for a separate incident in September.

“If they have contact with law enforcement, whether they are arrested or not, they are supposed to tell us,” O’Boyle said. “He failed to do so.”

Two weeks ago, the board found sufficient cause to issue a warrant against Thurston for community supervision violation , O’Boyle said.

Thurston remained in Beaufort County Detention Center Wednesday night with no bond.

Police to talk about the case Thursday

Coker lived in the house for about a month, neighbors say. She often waved to them but kept to herself.

In the days following Coker’s death, neighbors said police had given them little information. They said they were afraid.

The police department announced Wednesday that it would hold a press conference Thursday afternoon to discuss the murder.

Coker is the 11th homicide in Beaufort County in 2019. It is the only homicide this year in the Beaufort Police Department’s jurisdiction.

The city of Beaufort had one homicide last year.

On Sep. 8, 2018, Stephon Chaplin was shot and killed at Spanish Trace Apartments. Jibri McNair was charged with murder in the days following the crime. His case is pending.

Teresa Moss is a crime and public safety reporter for The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. She has worked as a journalist for 16-years for newspapers in Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas.