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Man charged in 2014 Bluffton murder gets 4 life sentences

  • Photo courtesy 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office Jerry Lee Manigault

A man accused of murdering a 70-year-old Bluffton woman and another elderly South Carolina woman in 2014 has been given four life sentences after pleading Monday in Beaufort County General Sessions Court, the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office said.

Jerry Lee Manigault was to face trial this month on murder, criminal sexual conduct and first-degree burglary charges in the May 12, 2014, death of Bluffton resident Polly Ann Mitchell.

Manigault also was charged in Charleston County for the murder of Julia Mudgett, 77, who lived near him in Hollywood and was killed about six days before Mitchell.

Manigault entered a plea to accept four life-without-parole sentences for murder and burglary charges associated with the women’s deaths, the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office said. He also received 30 years for sexually assaulting Mitchell and 15 years for the strong-armed robbery of Mudgett.

“I was very glad to give the family of Polly Ann Mitchell at least a small measure of closure in this case,” prosecutor Sean Thornton said in a Solicitor’s Office news release. “And I am glad not only for them, but for all of the citizens of Beaufort County and the 14th and Ninth circuits that Jerry Manigault will die in prison.”

The sentence was delivered by Circuit Court Judge Roger M. Young.

“The defendant preyed on the most vulnerable — elderly women who were home alone,” said Jennifer Kneece Shealy of the Ninth Circuit Solicitor’s Office, who prosecuted the charges related to Mudgett’s death. “His life sentences protect our community from the terror he inflicted on his victims.”

The agencies involved in the prosecution included both solicitor’s offices, the Bluffton Police Department, U.S. Marshals Service and the Charleston Sheriff’s Office. Forensic evidence was processed by the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office and State Law Enforcement Division.

“Jerry Lee Manigualt’s prosecution was complex. It involved two solicitor’s offices, five law-enforcement agencies, two forensic labs and evidence collected in three counties,” 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone said. “This was very much a joint prosecution with our office and Solicitor Scarlett Wilson.”

Manigault’s South Carolina criminal record dates to at least 1993 and includes convictions for kidnapping, crack possession, criminal domestic violence, grand larceny, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, and burglaries.

He was a person of interest in Mudgett’s disappearance and was being sought by the U.S. Marshals Service for failure to register as a sex offender on May 12, 2014, when he was spotted and arrested in Bluffton.

Hours later, a family member discovered Mitchell’s body in her Buck Island home. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled with a television power cord, the release said.

When Manigault was arrested, he had a backpack belonging to Mitchell. His clothing and money he carried in his pocket were stained with Mitchell’s blood, the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office said .Manigault was wearing Mitchell’s ring on one of his fingers, and his DNA was found on the power cord used to strangle her. Traces of Manigault’s flesh were removed from beneath Mitchell’s fingernails, the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office said.

One witness told authorities he saw Manigault near Mitchell’s house the night before her body was discovered. Others said Manigault, who grew up in Bluffton, had recently returned to the Buck Island Road area and had been trying to sell a maroon Hyundai Elantra.

The car, which belonged to Mudgett, was recovered from Tuten Landing Road in Ridgeland on May 12, 2014. A witness told authorities he abandoned it there a few days after purchasing the vehicle from Manigault.

After Mudgett’s body was discovered in a wooded area near her home, Manigault was charged with her murder as well, the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office said.

The charges in Beaufort County were prosecuted by the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office Career Criminal Unit. It has earned convictions against 40 of its 43 defendants in 2017.

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