Clothing Company Founder Sentenced To 12 Years For Teen Girlfriend's Fatal Shooting
Michael Hutto, the founder of the "Salt Life" clothing company, pleaded guilty to manslaughter with a firearm on Thursday, two-and-a-half years after shooting his 18-year-old girlfriend in their ritzy Florida hotel room.
Circuit Judge Cymonie Rowe sentenced Hutto, 56, to 12 years in state prison for killing Lora Grace Duncan on Oct. 29, 2020.
Duncan told Riviera Beach police that the two were pretending to shoot at each other with finger guns – and an actual one – when Duncan was unintentionally shot in the stomach, according to a probable cause affidavit obtained by Law and Crime.
"This was an accident," Hutto's defense attorney Donnie Murell Jr. said Friday, according to the Palm Beach Post. "A stupid, tragic, heartbreaking accident that basically ruined two families."
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Murrell also said that he believed Hutto was under the influence of drugs and alcohol when he pulled the trigger.
Duncan was still wearing her one-piece swimsuit from their day at the beach when Riviera Beach police arrived at the scene, called to the Hilton Singer Island Oceanfront Hotel for a welfare check.
Photo: Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office
The girl's father contacted police after he was unable to reach her for 48 hours, according to the affidavit. He suspected that her boyfriend Hutto was "giving [her] drugs to keep her sedated," he told police, and said his daughter sounded like she was under the influence when they last spoke over the phone.
Duncan had allegedly told her parents that she was going to Daytona Beach to meet Hutto's business associates, who she hoped could help her start her own business.
The concerned father tracked Duncan to the hotel room by using her phone data before calling police, who had staff open the room. According to the affidavit, there was a "strong odor of decomposition" detectable from the hallway before they entered.
There, Duncan laid facedown near the bathroom, her body "covered in blood" that had dried and live rounds on the floor. They also found marijuana in the room, the local outlet reported.
Hutto, police said, had fled the scene. The room was in his name, and he'd left behind his wallet and ID. He had been hospitalized the day before Duncan's body was found after a gas station attendant in St. John's County found him "on medication and shaking" and called police.
"Michael was reportedly twitching, making delusional comments, and crying while his eyes were rolling into the back of his head," police wrote.
Detectives located and confronted Hutto at Baptist Hospital in Jacksonville. There, they wrote, he confessed to accidentally killing his girlfriend:
"Oh my God," he allegedly said, weeping. "I think I hurt my Gracie."
According to the affidavit, Hutto "went on to state as Gracie was sitting on the counter inside of the bathroom, he pointed the gun at Gracie, at which time is went off and shot her. At that time, Hutto stated he put the gun in his black Adidas backpack and then left the room."
Then, Hutto allegedly told detectives, he left the hotel room in his 2020 green Dodge and drove until he ran out of gas. The vehicle was found parked and locked at the gas station where Hutto was picked up by an ambulance.
Hutto met Duncan at the gym where the 18-year-old worked when he underwent physical therapy there for an ATV accident, the Palm Beach Post reported.
"He loved Grace Duncan," Murrell told the outlet. "I know it sounds odd to say that because of their age difference, and the nature of their relationship. But he absolutely loved her."
Hutto cried in court on Thursday as Assistant State Attorney Jo Wilensky read aloud a statement written by Duncan's family at his sentencing.
The Salt Life brand was quick to distance itself from Hutto after his arrest, writing on their Facebook page two days later that "in 2013, the co-founders of Salt Life sold their entire business to the new owners ... [and] have not been associated with the brand in any way since the purchase."