Yes, Theodore Manning killed Nikki McPhatter by shooting her in the head, but he’s a responsible person who didn’t mean to do it, firing only in self-defense, his lawyer said in an opening statement today to a Richland County jury.
"Theodore Manning is 30 years old, he is a father, and has a 10-year-old daughter," said Jim May, one of three public defenders representing Manning in a murder trial in which the state is seeking life without parole.
Prosecutors want the jury to become prejudiced against Manning, May said.
"Their goal is to make you hate him," May said.
In the prosecution’s opening statements, 5th Circuit Solicitor Barney Giese told the jury of seven men and five women that Manning’s actions qualify as murder.
Manning not only let McPhatter’s friends and family suffer for 23 days while the Charlotte airlines employee was missing, he also stuffed her body in the truck of her car, drove it to a dirt road in Fairfield County, doused it with gasoline and set it afire, Giese said.
"This case literally drips with malice," said Giese, who said malice is "a darkness in the heart. It’s an evil in the heart."
Manning is charged with murder in the May 2009 killing of McPhatter, a 30-year-old Charlotte woman with whom he struck up a physical relationship with after meeting her in an Internet chat room. On May 6, 2009, she went to his Bluff Road house, where both prosecution and defense agree she was shot and killed.
By midday today, a half-dozen prosecution witnesses had testified. They included two of McPhatter’s friends, who told the jury what a hard worker she had been at her Charlotte airlines job.
Tom Hudson, a fraud investigator with Wachovia Bank, showed the jury time-delayed video clips of a man who looked like Manning using McPhatter’s bank cards to withdraw money from her bank accounts at an ATM on Farrow Road.
The withdrawals – the man took a total of $680 from two accounts and checked the balances of three of McPhatter’s other accounts -- took place the day she was killed.
Because of the poor quality of the videos, Hudson could not positively the man making the withdrawals.
Earlier, Judge Thomas Cooper told the jury that a murder trial is not like a television or movie trial. Its pace will be slow as lawyers use witnesses to present detailed evidence, he said.
"This is not CSI," he said.
The trial at the Richland County courthouse is expected to last into next week.