BEAUFORT, S.C. (Sept. 29, 2023) – A Beaufort man who stabbed a woman in the neck, killing her during a botched robbery attempt, has pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and three other crimes.
Jonah Bookmiller, 24, admitted Friday that he killed 31-year-old Heather Simmons while attempting to rob her friend in his Port Royal apartment. Bookmiller also pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of Christopher Kirland and two charges of possession of a weapon during commission of a violent crime.
He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
“This was a brutal killing, carried out by someone who thought he would make a quick score of cash and drugs,” said Trasi Campbell of the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, who prosecuted the case. “Heather Simmons lost her life as a result, and Mr. Bookmiller must pay the price for his greed and brutality.”
Kirkland and Simmons arrived at his apartment in Abberly Point in Port Royal just before midnight on Nov. 1, 2020. A short time later, Bookmiller, an acquaintance who had purchased cocaine from Kirkland on several previous occasions, knocked on the apartment door. When Kirkland answered, Bookmiller and a second person attacked him with a knife, stabbing him in the neck. The attackers then turned to Simmons, who pleaded with them, “Don’t do this; I have kids.” She was stabbed in the neck, as well.
Kirkland managed to escape but collapsed outside his apartment. Bystanders discovered him there and tended to him until medical first-responders and law enforcement arrived. Kirland told Port Royal Police that “Jonah” was responsible for the attack. He was transported to the Medical University of South Carolina, where he was placed in a medically induced coma, though he eventually recovered from the attack.
Port Royal Police Department investigators found a large bag of marijuana, crack cocaine and $5,000 in Kirland’s apartment. They have been unable to definitively identify the second attacker, however.
Circuit Court Judge R. Ferrell Cothran handed down the sentence.
Campbell is a member of the Career Criminal Unit, which prosecutes the circuit’s most violent and habitual offenders. That team has earned convictions against 468 of the 511 defendants it has prosecuted since its formation in 2009.