Michael Hutto was a married father of four, who raised horses and cattle in a farm outside of Lake City, Florida. He met Duncan at a gym where the 18-year-old worked and Hutto underwent physical therapy stemming from an ATV accident years earlier. Striking up an unlikely relationship that no one saw coming.
She told her parents they were going to Daytona Beach to meet Hutto’s associates, who she hoped could help the couple start a business. Hutto had sold Salt Life, a clothing line marketed to surfers and boaters, in 2013.
Duncan called her parents during a deputy’s visit to their house, dispelling their fears that she was missing.
But she sounded strange, they insisted she seemed to be drugged and vulnerable. They asked that the sheriff’s office conduct a welfare check, fearful that Hutto had manipulated their daughter.
The sheriff’s office sent a notice statewide to be on the lookout for Duncan, who called her parents again to tell them she and Hutto were headed for the Keys. Employees at the Hilton Singer Island Oceanfront hotel told police on Oct. 29, 2020, that a man named Hutto reserved a room and missed his checkout time.
An officer knocked on their hotel door, his two companions ducking out of the view of the peephole, but no one answered. The officers said later they could smell something bad emanating from inside the room. The hotel staff let them inside, and they found Duncan, alone. The blood that pooled around her was dry.
They found marijuana, too. Murrell said he didn’t know why Hutto drew his gun in the first place, but he believes he fired it by accident, perhaps under the influence of drugs and alcohol — then he fled in a panic.
He made it about four hours’ north, just south of Jacksonville, before pulling into a gas station “twitching, making delusional comments and crying” while his eyes rolled back in his head, the gas station employees said. Police found him in a nearby hospital.
It started as a game, Michael Hutto said. He told investigators he made his hands into the shape of a gun and aimed them at his teenage girlfriend, perched on the countertop of their hotel bathroom. Lora Grace Duncan aimed her own back at him.
She was his “Gracie,” said Hutto, then 54, and a co-founder of the Salt Life clothing company. She was a third of his age and clad in a one-piece swimsuit from their day at the beach. She was still in the suit when police found her face down on the bathroom floor in October 2020, a bullet from a real gun in her stomach.
“Oh my God,” Hutto told investigators when confronted about Duncan’s death later at a hospital near Jacksonville, Florida. “I think I hurt my Gracie.”
Hutto pleaded guilty to manslaughter with a firearm Thursday, two-and -a-half years after fleeing from their oceanfront hotel in Riviera Beach, Florida, and leaving his wallet, ID and girlfriend behind. Circuit Judge Cymonie Rowe sentenced him to 12 years in state prison.
“This was an accident,” Hutto’s defense attorney, Donnie Murrell Jr., said Friday. “A stupid, tragic, heartbreaking accident that basically ruined two families.”
Duncan’s mother and father felt differently about the relationship. They reported their daughter missing to the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office on Oct. 26, 2020, one day after she texted to say she was traveling with Hutto. They tried to protect her from him, but as she was 18 they couldn’t control her every move. Unfortunately this mistake she made, trusting him ended her life.