By Kate Northrop
A North Carolina Lottery winner who won a $10 million prize in 2017 has been sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of murder.
In 2017, Michael Todd Hill, 54, struck it big after winning $10 million from a scratch-off lottery ticket. After having been charged with the murder of 23-year-old Keonna Graham in 2020, he has now been handed a life sentence in prison.
Hill, of Leland, worked in a nuclear plant in 2017 when he hit millions on an "Ultimate Millions" instant ticket. After scooping up the game's top prize, the dedicated scratch-off player was shocked to find that his hard work had paid off.
"I have a strategy when it comes to scratching," he had told the North Carolina Lottery after his win. "I start with the corners. When I got to the dollar symbol, I knew I won something. I saw the one and then the zero, and it still didn't hit me. But then I saw the 'M.' My heart dropped down to my toes and I lost my breath."
After opting for the lump sum cash option, he ended up taking home over $4 million after taxes.
Employees at the convenience store Hill frequented recalled him as a genuinely nice person. He had even returned to the store to give $2,000 to the woman who sold him the winning ticket.
Three years later, Keonna Graham was reported missing. Her body was later discovered with a "gunshot wound to the back of the head" in a hotel room Hill had occupied, and he was subsequently charged with first-degree murder.
"Surveillance footage from the hotel showed Hill as the only individual in the hotel room with Graham, prosecutors said. "Hill was later arrested by law enforcement in Southport, North Carolina and confessed to shooting Graham after she had been texting other men while at the hotel."
According to the police, Hill was involved in an "on-and-off" relationship with Graham.
"I think it's horrible," Tiffany Wilson, an acquaintance of Graham's had said at the time. "I mean, he just won the lottery. I heard he just got married and you go and kill a young girl? A beautiful girl? I don't understand."
On May 27, Hill was found guilty of first-degree murder. According to officials, he will serve "life in prison without the possibility of parole and 22-36 month in prison for Possession of Firearm by Felon to run concurrent with his life sentence."
"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 stated in a news release from prosecutors. "The hard work of these officers ensured a just result in this case."
Graham was a correctional officer at a prison in Burgaw, North Carolina. She also worked at a local rehabilitation center to help those who are mentally disabled. Her hobbies included hiking and riding bicycles.
"She did all of this like it was second nature to her," Antoinette Lee, Graham's cousin, said of her. "We are hurting. We are in pain. Our family is devastated."
Graham was also remembered for being adventurous and generous toward others.
"She was very loved, and she's very beautiful," Wilson said.