Crime & Courts

‘Toxic’ relationship ended with murders of teen mom and unborn baby, SC prosecutors say

Johnnie Lee McKnight was found guilty in the murders of a teen mom and her unborn son.
Johnnie Lee McKnight was found guilty in the murders of a teen mom and her unborn son. 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office

A South Carolina man who killed a 16-year-old girl and their unborn child in a drive-by shooting will spend the rest of his life in prison for their murders, prosecutors announced Wednesday.

A jury found Johnnie Lee McKnight, 39, of Barnwell County, guilty on two counts of murder for the 2017 drive-by shooting that killed 16-year-old Alydia Ling and their unborn son, according to a release Wednesday from the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office.

After the two-day trial, Circuit Court Judge Carmen T. Mullen handed McKnight two life sentences — one for each of the murders —along with an additional 30 years for each of the attempted murders, 10 years for discharging a firearm into a dwelling and five years for possession of a weapon during a violent crime.

“This crime is simply tragic and beyond outrageous,” said prosecutor Hunter Swanson. “Johnnie Lee McKnight’s ego stoked this toxic relationship with a girl 22 years younger than him, and it ultimately caused her death and the death of her son.”

Ling was walking on the sidewalk outside her Estill home the night of Aug. 31, 2017, when McKnight drove up and told her to get into his car, prosecutors said. Ling’s brother was on the porch of their home and told her not to go with McKnight but to go inside. Her brother and McKnight argued before McKnight sped away.

When McKnight reached the end of the block, he turned around and returned to the home, shouting from his car, prosecutors said. He then pointed a rifle out of the driver’s side window and unleashed a spray of gunfire on the home.

Ling’s brother, who is a security guard and a concealed-weapons permit holder, returned fire with his 9-mm handgun, prosecutors said. However, a shot from McKnight’s rifle hit the teen mother in the neck as she stood in the doorway with her mother, and she died at the scene. A friend of Ling’s was also in the home at the time.

She was three weeks from her expected due date.

McKnight was located the next day, and police later found the Honda Accord he drove during the shooting, according to the solicitor’s office. The rifle used in the murders was never found, but prosecutors said gunshot residue tests on the Honda indicated a gun was fired from the car, and clothes from the truck McKnight was driving when he was arrested contained gunshot residue and McKnight’s DNA.

A DNA test also confirmed that McKnight was the father of Ling’s unborn son, prosecutors said.

Teddy Kulmala covers breaking news for The State and covered crime and courts for seven years in Columbia, Rock Hill, Aiken and Lumberton, N.C. He graduated from Clemson University and grew up in Barnwell County.