Crime & Public Safety

Police say man charged with murder of elderly Beaufort woman had done yard work for her

This story has been updated.

Beaufort Police Department officials say a 70-year-old woman, beaten and strangled in October, had hired the suspect in her murder to do yard work at least once.

Jermaine Lemonte Thurston , 42, of Seabrook became a person of interest in the murder of Theresa Coker after investigators spoke with witnesses and canvassed the neighborhood, Beaufort Police Chief Matthew Clancy said Thursday.

Recently, Clancy said, forensic evidence processed by the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Crime Lab linked Thurston to the crime scene.

Coker, who had lived on Polk Street for about two months, was found Oct. 9 by maintenance workers who were attempting to replace a door at her rental home.

A medical examiner determined Coker died between the late night hours of Oct. 2 and early morning hours of Oct. 3, Clancy said.

Master Sgt. Charles Raley said the house was in disarray but that police could not determine whether anything was taken. They found no signs of forced entry.

A day after workers discovered Coker’s body, her vehicle was found in the Seabrook area, not far from where police located Thurston, Clancy said.

Law enforcement officers interviewed Thurston about the crime Oct. 24 when he was booked in Beaufort County Detention Center for parole violations, Clancy said.

Police have not determined a motive, Clancy said.

The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives assisted with the case.

Past Crimes

Thurston was released from prison in April after serving about 10 years for two crimes that together carried a sentence of 50 years in prison.

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

Theresa Coker Beaufort Police Department

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

Thurston was released from prison in April after serving 85 percent of that sentence, S.C. Department of Corrections spokeswoman Chrysti Shain said.

The sentences were the most recent in Thurston’s long history of being in and out of Beaufort County jail and the South Carolina prison system for violent crimes.

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.

Thurston started missing check-ins with parole agents and also failed to pay some fees, O’Boyle said. He also failed to notify the department after the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department interviewed him for a separate incident in September.

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

Thurston remains in Beaufort County Detention Center on no bond.

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

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.