The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

After ‘life-changing’ lottery win, man gets life in prison for murder


After Michael Todd Hill collected his winnings from a $10 million lottery scratch-off ticket, the North Carolina nuclear-plant worker described the lucky 2017 event as “life-changing.”

Nearly five years after his win in a gas-station parking lot, he was convicted of killing his girlfriend in a hotel.

Hill, 54, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole Friday after a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder for the death of Keonna Graham in 2020. He had confessed to fatally shooting Graham, 23, in the back of the head, telling authorities that he killed her because she was communicating with other men at the hotel where she was staying.

“Surveillance footage from the hotel showed Hill as the only individual in the hotel room with Graham,” prosecutors for the 15th Prosecutorial District of North Carolina wrote in a news release.

Hill, of Leland, N.C., was also sentenced to 22 to 36 months in prison for a charge of possession of firearm by a felon. That term will run concurrent with his life sentence for murder, according to prosecutors.

It’s unclear whether Hill has an attorney. Prosecutors did not list attorney information for Hill in their news release.

While lottery wins can give people winnings ranging from a few bucks to life-altering fortunes, they can also lead to crime — and death. In 2015, a fight over a $500 scratch-off ticket in Fort Worth led to a murder-suicide of a couple. The next year, seven people in Georgia were charged in the home invasion killing of Craigory Burch Jr., 20, who had won a $400,000 lottery jackpot. Years after a Michigan couple won a $500,000 jackpot, police arrested them in 2019 after authorities accused Stephanie Harvell and Mitchell Arnswald of being behind a months-long string of burglaries targeting houses in the state.

In North Carolina, Hill played an Extreme Millions scratch-off ticket at a gas station and came up short in August 2017, according to the state’s lottery administrator. He went back to the clerk and decided to play Ultimate Millions instead, he said that year.

“I joked with her, ‘How come you didn’t sell me a winning ticket?’ ” Hill said.

He returned to his car and started scratching in the parking lot. It didn’t take him long to recognize he might have a winning ticket.

“When I got to the dollar symbol, I knew I won something,” he said in 2017. “I saw the one and then the zero and it still didn’t hit me.”

Hill went back inside and asked the clerk what the ticket’s message meant.

“She told me, ‘Sir, I think you just won $10 million,’ ” he told the state lottery. He soon called his wife to let her know of the “life-changing” news: “I told her to pack her bags, because we just won $10 million!”

Hill agreed to take a lump sum of $6 million, which came to $4,159,101 after state and federal tax withholdings, according to the lottery. He said he had planned to pay off bills and invest in his wife’s business.

Almost three years later, Hill was in the middle of an 18-month relationship with Graham, who was decades younger than him, according to WRAL. The two had a history of domestic problems, according to an autopsy report from the state medical examiner’s office.

On July 20, 2020, Graham’s mother filed a missing-persons report when her daughter did not show up at her job as a corrections officer at Pender Correctional Institution, WWAY reported. On the same day the report was filed, the maid staff at the SureStay Hotel in Shallotte, N.C. — about 40 miles southeast of Wilmington — entered Room 310 and found Graham on the bed with a gunshot wound on her head, according to WECT.

Authorities concluded that Graham was asleep when she was fatally shot by a .45-caliber handgun.

Hill eventually confessed to authorities that he had killed Graham after she was texting men at the hotel.

Family friend Tiffany Wilson recounted to WECT in 2020 how Graham “was very loved and she’s very beautiful,” and she reiterated her disgust over the lottery winner’s actions.

“All that money and you are seducing a young girl to go into a hotel?” Wilson said at the time. “I don’t know what the situation is but you had no business being in a hotel with her.”