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Salt Life co-founder charged with killing of 18-year-old claims search of hotel room was illegal

Michael Hutto was one of the co-founders of the prominent lifestyle company Salt Life, which sells gear for surfing, fishing, diving and beach gear.

The legal team representing a man suspected of killing an 18-year-old Columbia County woman has filed a motion to suppress evidence due to an alleged illegal search.

Michael Troy Hutto, 55, was jailed in October of 2020 on warrants charging him with manslaughter and possession of a weapon during the commission of a felony, according to Jacksonville Sheriff's Office inmate records.

Hutto was one of the co-founders of the prominent lifestyle company Salt Life, which sells gear for surfing, fishing, diving and beach gear.

Last week, Hutto's legal team, Tassone, Dreicer & Hill, filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained by police during their investigation due to what they say was an illegal search of the hotel room that Lora Grace Duncan, 18, was found dead inside.

Hutto's legal team claims officers did not observe any suspicious circumstances that would support a reasonable belief that the occupants of the hotel room were having a medical emergency, and that the officer's warrantless entry was not justified under this exigency exception. 

RELATED: Salt Life co-founder moved to Palm Beach County jail for manslaughter case

As a result, the motion asks the court to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of the "unlawful entry into the Defendants' hotel room".

Hutto has been out of custody since November 10, 2020, as reflected on the clerk’s docket.

Hutto's next court date is Feb. 4, 2022. 

According to the affidavit, on Thursday, Oct. 29 around 10:50 a.m., the Riviera Beach Police Department was called out to the Hilton Hotel, 3700 N. Ocean Blvd., to conduct a welfare check on Duncan.

Lora Duncan's father, Burton Duncan, told police he hadn't heard from her since Sunday morning. He said he tracked her phone and believed she was at the hotel with her boyfriend, Hutto. He also told police that he believed Hutto "gave drugs to his daughter to keep her sedated," according to the report.

When police arrived, staff helped open the door and immediately, "there was a strong odor of decomposition from the hallway," the police report states. It goes on to state a woman's body was found on the bathroom floor, covered in blood and with a gunshot wound to her stomach.

The room was put in Hutto's name and police found his wallet and ID inside, the report states.

Surveillance video showed Hutto leave the hotel with a backpack before he drove off in his vehicle, police said. Immediately, a BOLO was issued for Hutto.

Shortly after, the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office contacted a detective with the Riviera Beach Police Department and said the previous day, Oct. 28, Hutto overdosed at a BP Gas Station, 120 Center Place Way in St. Augustine.

SJSO said the attendant called the sheriff's office after a man walked into the store, asking for help. He was "reportedly twitching, making delusional comments, crying while his eyes were rolling into the back of his head," the police report states.

RELATED: Salt Life co-founder charged with manslaughter in death of Lake City teen

The man, later identified as Hutto, was transported to the hospital where he was receiving treatment, SJSO said.

Riviera Beach Police detectives went to the hospital where Hutto was being treated and asked if he knew why they were there. He told them "yes" and uttered "not verbatim, 'Oh my god, I think, I think I hurt my Gracie' as he began to cry," the police report states. Hutto stopped talking, but said he would continue the next day, according to the report.

The next day, Hutto reportedly told the detective they were headed to the Florida Keys to see some friends and that they were staying at the Hilton. When asked about what happened at the hotel, Hutto said "him and his Gracie spent time on the beach ... him and his Gracie was playing inside of the hotel room as if they were shooting with their finger and a gun ... Gracie was sitting on the counter inside of the bathroom, he pointed the gun at Gracie, at which time; it went off and shot her," the police report states.

Hutto said he left the room with the gun and his medications in his backpack, which was found in the front passenger seat of his vehicle, according to the report.

Hutto was arrested and charged with homicide-manslaughter and possession or use of a weapon, the report states.

Credit: Florida Highway Patrol, Sydney Tyre
Michael Troy Hutto (L) is accused in the shooting death of Lora Grace Duncan, 18.

Salt Life released the following statement:

Sadly we have learned one of Salt Life’s co-founders has been charged with a felony. Salt Life sends their utmost sympathies to the family and friends of the deceased. In 2013, the co-founders of Salt Life sold their entire business to the new owners. The co-founders have not been associated with the brand in any way since the purchase in 2013.

RELATED: Report: 18-year-old woman shot to death by 54-year-old Salt Life co-founder boyfriend in South Florida