A North Carolina man who won $10 million on a scratch ticket five years ago will spend the rest of his life behind bars in the fatal shooting of his girlfriend in 2020, a judge ruled last week.
A jury convicted Michael Todd Hill, 54, of first-degree murder on Friday in the 2020 shooting murder of his girlfriend Keonna Graham, 23. He'd pleaded guilty to charges of possession of a firearm by a felon, according to court documents. The jury deliberated for approximately an hour before reaching their verdict.
Brunswick County Judge Joshua Wiley then sentenced Hill to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus an additional 22 months to 36 months for the firearm charge to run concurrently with his life sentence.
In 2017, Hill, a former nuclear plant worker, made local headlines after winning $10 million on an Ultimate Millions scratch lottery ticket.
“I have a strategy when it comes to scratching,” Hill said at the time, according to a North Carolina Education Lottery press release. “I start with the corners.”
Hill opted to take a $6 million lump sum payment instead of a full $10 million annuity, which would have meant getting 20 yearly payments of $500,000. He cleared upwards of $4.1 million in winnings after federal and state tax withholdings.
“This is life changing,” he added. “Wow! Just wow!”
Three years later, Hill's girlfriend, Graham, was reported missing by her mother on July 20, 2020, according to prosecutors. The 23-year-old woman was eventually found dead — with a bullet wound in the back of her head — in a room at the SureStay Hotel in Shallotte, North Carolina, near the state's southern-most coastal stretch. Hotel surveillance footage showed Hill was the only individual in the room with Graham before her death, and linked him to the young woman’s slaying.
Following Hill’s arrest in nearby Southport, North Carolina, police say he admitted to shooting his girlfriend after he caught her texting other men while they were at the hotel. The pair had been involved in a romantic relationship for roughly a year and a half prior to the killing. Hill was indicted by a grand jury in October 2020, according to documents obtained by Oxygen.com.
Graham was from the small town of Navassa — just 30 miles northeast of where she was killed, outside Wilmington — according to her obituary. She was employed as a prison correctional officer at the time of her death and had previously worked for a program which assisted individuals with mental disabilities.
“Michael Hill joins a long list of former lottery winners whose life veered towards a dark place after he won big,” District Attorney Jon David said in a statement sent to Oxygen.com on Wednesday afternoon. “One of the common threads among many lottery winners is that they know how to spend money, but not earn it."
"After the windfall runs out the people who the winner attracted with a lavish lifestyle begin to drift away," he added. "In its place we see envy, jealousy, and resentment. This can lead to desperate behavior, including murder.”
“The District Attorney’s Office would like to thank our local law enforcement agencies for their collaborative efforts in the investigation of Graham’s death,” Assistant District Attorney Shirley Smircic said in a press release. “The hard work of these officers ensured a just result in this case.”
Hill’s defense attorney, Michael Ramos, wasn’t immediately available for comment when contacted by Oxygen.com on Wednesday.