SC appeals court: Judge was OK in not letting Internet romance killer argue Castle Doctrine

From staff reportsMay 7, 2014 

— The Columbia man who killed Nikki McPhatter, a Charlotte airline employee he met online and was seeing romantically, was told this week his 30-year sentence would stand even though the circuit court judge in his trial denied him the chance to argue the Castle Doctrine.

Theodore “Teddy” Manning argued in an appeal of his conviction that McPhatter came to his house as a guest and transformed into an unwelcome guest when she pulled a gun on him. He and his lawyer said he was defending himself and his home when he shot and killed her.

The S.C. Court of Appeals, however, sided with Circuit Court Judge Thomas Cooper in a ruling released Wednesday, saying the Castle Doctrine is not something everyone can use for self defense.

Cooper gave Manning 30 years in prison in October 2010 after a jury found Manning guilty of voluntary manslaughter, not murder.

The Richland County jury of seven men and five women deliberated for almost 10 hours over two days before finding Manning guilty of the lesser charge.

Murder would have meant life in prison without parole.

But the jury sided with the defense, accepting the argument that the 2009 killing was a spur-of-the-moment action during a lovers’ quarrel and not premeditated. They focused on the couple’s wrestling over the gun that killed McPhatter, instead of what Manning did next: looting McPhatter’s ATM accounts, stuffing her body in the trunk of her car, driving the car to rural Fairfield County and setting it on fire to try to cover up his crimes.

Still, in the end, Cooper could have given Manning from two to 30 years behind bars. He chose 30.

A key point during testimony was that McPhatter had been shot “execution-style,” in the back of the head, which still did not convince the jury to find him guilty of murder.

Manning and McPhatter met on Tagged.com and had no mutual friends. When she disappeared in May 2009, police had few immediate leads. McPhatter’s frantic friends only knew that she had been seeing a man named “Teddy” in Columbia.

Deputies were able to crack the case by using high-tech and shoe leather investigative techniques that led to another Manning girlfriend, Kendra Goodman, who told police where McPhatter’s body was and who had killed her.

Confronted, Manning confessed but said it was an accident, that McPhatter was angry because she wanted more from their relationship. Manning told police he didn’t want a more extensive relationship with McPhatter – that he had been seeing six girlfriends simultaneously, keeping each one in the dark about the others.

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