(Tribune News Service) — A veteran accused of killing two men on Hilton Head Island, S.C., in 2017 pleaded guilty on Friday, with a prosecutor and defense lawyer saying that the shooter's mental health played a role in the killings.

Malcolm Melton, of Wilmington, N.C., pleaded guilty to two counts of voluntary manslaughter, two counts of possession of a weapon in commission of a violent crime, and one count of unlawful carrying of a pistol, court records show.

On April 2, 2017, two men were shot in the head and killed: Marcol McNair, 25, and Quincy King, 20, of Ridgeland, S.C. Melton was arrested the same day as the killings.

On Friday, Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen sentenced Melton to 30 years in prison, which will amount to a little over 25 years subtracting the time Melton has been in jail.

Melton, 30 at the time of his arrest, was originally charged with murder by the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office, but a negotiated plea deal resulted in Melton pleading to voluntary manslaughter on Friday.

"Everyone agreed that it was appropriate for voluntary manslaughter for 30 years. Guilty but mentally ill," said Trasi Campbell, prosecutor with the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office. "He will receive mental health treatment within the S.C. Department of Corrections."

McNair went to Jasper County High School, according to his Facebook page. The page is lined with years of posts about McNair since his death, as recent as last week.

"Well respected no matter the terms," one poster wrote. "[Marcol] always helped anybody & everybody the best way he knew how."

"You made everybody laugh," one commenter wrote on King's obituary page days after the killing.

Family members for King and McNair spoke on Friday before Melton's sentencing "about the tragedy and loss of their sons," Campbell said.

Mental illness and drugs

Melton served in the military and was stationed in Iraq in 2004, developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of that experience, said his defense lawyer, Justin Kata of the Giese Law Firm in Columbia.

Kata said Melton was later diagnosed by a psychiatrist.

At the time of the killings, "he had PTSD symptoms and he was self-medicating," Kata said.

On the evening of April 2, 2017, the Wilmington man was visiting Hilton Head with his girlfriend and was spending time on the island with people she knew. They were at a home on Muddy Creek Road and had planned to go to a cookout later, Campbell said.

Then, a "bizarre twist" occurred, she said.

"During his trip to Hilton Head Island, Melton took large amounts of illegal narcotics, including Ecstasy, and continued to do so for the next four days. He had not slept since he and his girlfriend arrived on Hilton Head," a Solicitor's Office news release said.

Melton shot McNair and King, thinking they were a threat and trying to harm him. He hid behind the refrigerator and shot both men in the head.

"During his visit, Melton complained that others at the residence were conspiring to rob or kill him. One of the residents cautioned him to stop taking drugs and get some sleep," it said.

Melton ran and was caught by a Sheriff's Office K-9 in the underbrush near the Cross Island Expressway, with a semi-automatic handgun on him. Methamphetamine was also later found in Melton's possession, Campbell said.

"You can't feed your head with all these drugs and there's no criminal responsibility," Campbell said.

Kata said Melton's PTSD, worsened by the drugs, caused him to shoot the two men.

"It essentially caused him to have hallucinogenic visions," Kata said.

In court

Melton initially pleaded not guilty by insanity, his lawyers arguing he should not be held criminally responsible for killing the men while under duress from mental illness. His lawyers commissioned a report by Dr. Donna Mattox, a well-known Columbia psychiatrist, that found that Melton suffered from PTSD and shouldn't be held responsible.

Campbell said the Solicitor's Office hired its own psychiatrist to analyze Melton. The psychiatrist "did not characterize his condition as mental illness," according to Campbell.

After several delays due to the amount of time for both reports and the arrival of COVID-19, the case was ready to go to trial last week. But instead, both sides agreed to a plea deal, said Campbell.

(c)2022 The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.)

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