BEAUFORT, S.C. (April 18, 2023) – A 46-year-old Seabrook man with a history of violent crimes is returning to prison for the strangling death of a 70-year-old Beaufort woman who hired him to do yard work.
Jermaine Lemonte Thurston pleaded guilty Monday in Beaufort Count General Sessions Court of murdering Theresa Coker in her home on Polk Street. Thurston was sentenced to 43 years in prison.
“Throughout his life, Jermaine Thurston has demonstrated a penchant for violence that has only escalated,” said Hunter Swanson of the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, who prosecuted the case. “Nothing is more despicable than brutalizing a vulnerable person who trusted you. Mr. Thurston’s conviction is a measure of justice for Theresa Coker and a measure of safety for our community.”
Thurston’s jury trial was to begin Monday, but he opted to plead guilty instead.
A property management worker found Coker dead on Oct. 9, 2019, when he came to replace locks and door frames for the new tenant. After no one answered his knocks, he let himself into the house and discovered Coker’s partially nude body on a bedroom floor. She likely had been dead for several days.
Blood smears were found in the bedroom and the kitchen, and her purse and jewelry appeared to have been rifled through. Coker’s Honda Accord also was missing.
Thurston had only recently been released from prison. Though he lived in Seabrook, he had a girlfriend who lived in the city of Beaufort. He had been seen walking the streets around Polk Street in the days before Coker’s murder. Neighbors reported that Coker complained she had been harassed recently by a Black male asking to do yard work for her. They later saw a man fitting Thurston’s description in her yard.
One neighbor also reported that Thurston came by with some jewelry that he was trying to sell shortly after Coker’s death. Coker’s daughter also identified jewelry that Thurston gave to his girlfriend after the killing as belonging to her mother.
Coker’s missing vehicle was found abandoned in Seabrook, about a mile from home of Thurston’s mother.
Bloody clothing was discovered in Thurston’s home after Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office investigators obtained a search warrant. His DNA was discovered on the curtains in Coker’s home, on a mop located near her body and on a cigarette butt recovered from her stolen vehicle.
Thurston’s criminal history dates to 1994 and includes offenses in South Carolina and Georgia. Among them are four convictions for assault and battery, including a 2006 charge of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature and a 2009 conviction for assault and battery with intent to kill that resulted in a 12-year prison sentence. Additionally, Thurston has been convicted twice of burglary, and also of criminal domestic violence and armed robbery.
Circuit Court Judge Robert Bonds handed down the sentence.
Swanson is a member of the Solicitor’s Office Career Criminal Unit, which prosecutes the circuit’s most violent and habitual offenders. That team has earned convictions against 445 of the 482 defendants it has prosecuted since its formation in late 2009.
Swanson also leads the office’s Special Victims Unit, which prosecutes domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and other crimes against vulnerable people. The Solicitor’s Office, in conjunction with community partners, operates the 14th Circuit Victims Services Center, South Carolina’s first accredited Family Justice Center. If you or a loved one is facing domestic violence or other abuse at the hands of a partner or family member, call the 14th Circuit Victims Services Center’s 24-hour hotline at 843-790-6220. You can also email the center at [email protected] or visit the center’s website at https://scsolicitor14.org/victim-services-center/.
Jermain Lemonte Thurston