Cell phone message from murder suspect says "Don't say anything"

Theodore Roosevelt Manning, IV (Photo courtesy Richland County Sheriff's Office)
Theodore Roosevelt Manning, IV (Photo courtesy Richland County Sheriff's Office)
Nikki McPhatter was first reported missing in May 2009.
Nikki McPhatter was first reported missing in May 2009.

By Jeff Rivenbark - email
Trent Faris - bio l email
Kay Johnson - bio l email

RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WBTV) - The trial of a man accused of murdering a Charlotte airline worker resumed Friday morning with testimony from the coroner who conducted an autopsy on the victim, a forensic pathologist who evaluated the manner in which she was killed, and an investigator who evaluated cell phone activity between the defendant and the co-defendant.

The defendant in the case, Theodore Manning IV, is charged with the 2009 murder of 30-year-old Nikki McPhatter, a US Airways employee who went missing and was found three weeks later in the trunk of her burned vehicle.

On Friday, jurors heard from Richland County Deputy Coroner Bill Stevens about the match between known dental records for Nikki McPhatter and the dental remains found in the burned-out car.  Stevens said 90 percent of McPhatter's bones were re coved from the trunk of the car.

The next witness called to the stand was a forensic pathologist.  Dr. Bradley Marcus testified that McPhatter was killed by a bullet to the back of her head.  Marcus said bullet fragments were recovered from the victim's body, but he was unable to determine the exact distance the in which the murder weapon was from her head when she was shot.

Around noon on Friday, Lt. Scott McDonald with the Richland County Sheriff Department's Major Crimes Unit was called to the stand.  McDonald has expertise as a cell phone investigator and he shared information about the use of McPhatter's ATM Wachovia bank card during the time in which she was reported missing.

McDonald also testified that cell phone records place Manning in the area where McPhatter's body was found.  McDonald also read text messages from Manning to co-defendant Kendra Goodman which allude to the crime.

One of the messages said sorry for dragging you (Goodman) into this and "Don't say anything else to police..."  The messages also showed that Manning tried to track down Goodman during the time she led police to McPhatter's body.

Several other Richland County investigators testified about searching both Goodman's and Manning's homes and cars.

A t-shirt, cleaning supplies and a credit card were all submitted as evidence. The t-shirt, prosecutors say, matches the one a man was wearing when using McPhatter's ATM card.

The trial resumes Monday.

Manning is expected to testify in his own defense.

* * *

Co-defendant Kendra Goodman, who is also Manning's friend, was called to the stand to testify Thursday afternoon.  During her testimony, she was asked about the day of McPhatter's murder.

Goodman told the court that Manning was driving McPhatter's car and that Goodman was following behind him in her own car.  Goodman said they pulled over at a church located off Peach Road.  Goodman said she waited for Manning in the church parking lot.

Sometime later, she said Manning returned to her car, and they drove to another location to fill a container with gas.

They went back to the church where Goodman parked her car.  Goodman remained in the vehicle and Manning got out, taking Goodman's cigarette lighter and the gas can.

He left Goodman in the parking lot and walked a short distance away.  Moments later, she heard an explosion.  She said Manning smelled like gasoline when he came back to her car.

Goodman admitted on the stand that she lied to police four times during questioning, but that Manning had coached her on what to tell police.  She eventually told the truth and was charged with accessory after the fact.

Goodman said the reason why she was testifying was because "…her family has a right to know" and that they need closure.

During the court proceedings Thursday morning, the solicitor played a recording of Manning's interview with police investigators after they searched his home.

In the recording, Manning could be heard telling police that his relationship with McPhatter was mostly sexual in nature.  At one point, Manning said they were "...friends with benefits for sexual encounters."

Manning also told police, the last day he saw McPhatter, they had a verbal argument concerning their relationship.

A police detective who interviewed Manning asked if the argument got violent.  Manning asked why the detective wanted to know that.  The detective told Manning that police just wanted to know if he was injured.  Manning said the argument wasn't physical.

In the recording, the detective also asked if Manning killed Nikki [McPhatter] to which he replied, "No."

The detective next asked Manning if he had any role in McPhatter's disappearance and Manning, again, responded by saying, "No."

Police also asked Manning if he purchased bleach at a Walmart, and when was the last time he cleaned his house.  Manning told the investigators "maybe two weeks ago."

In the recording, Manning told police he heard through a friend that McPhatter was missing and that he asked a friend to look it up online.

The police detective then asked if Manning was being honest and he replied, "Straightforward."

The solicitor also showed the court surveillance video from the Walmart store where Manning and Goodman allegedly purchased bleach after McPhatter was reported as missing.

The video also showed Manning at an ATM machine inside the store attempting to make two transactions.  Bank records show someone tried to make two balance inquires.  Since McPhatter had been reported as missing, the bank had already placed a stop on the card to prevent any further activity on her account.

A witness with Veterans Affairs was also called to the stand Thursday morning to confirm McPhatter's dental records.  McPhatter had previously served in the Navy.

* * *

During the opening statements Wednesday morning, the defense asked the judge if Manning's signed confession in which investigators obtained following his arrest be thrown out before the trial started.

The defense told the court that while Manning pulled the trigger, it was an act of self-defense.  The defense claimed Manning shot McPhatter only after she pulled a gun on him following an argument over their relationship.  The defense said there was no malice, and that the jury needs to listen to the facts.

The solicitor, however, told the jurors, "...the shooting drips with malice and forethought" and that Manning's attempt to cover up the death was malicious.

By noon, the solicitor called four witnesses to the stand including McPhatter's friend, a co-worker and a US Airways security employee.  Each of them talked about their actions when McPhatter never showed up to work.

The fourth witness was an employee with Wachovia's bank fraud department who told the court about transactions that were made with McPhatter's ATM card after she was reported missing.

The solicitor also presented evidence to the court in the form of surveillance video showing a black male walking up to a drive-thru ATM, and bank records showing seven different times in which McPhatter's bank card was used.  A total of $588 was withdrawn from two of McPhatter's checking accounts.

There was no cross examination of the four witnesses other than one question about the time in which McPhatter left work on May 4.

Wednesday afternoon, a homicide detective with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department was called to the stand to testify.  He said McPhatter went to Columbia, SC, to visit a person named "Teddy" and to pick up some jewelry.

CMPD investigators also played an audio recording of Manning that was recorded by police during their first interview with him.  On the tape, Manning could be heard saying the last time he saw McPhatter was "two weeks ago" which was about the time in which she went missing.

Also in the recording, Manning told police McPhatter came to visit him, and that she needed gas.  She came to his house to lay down and then got up around 1 p.m.  He said she needed to go somewhere and that he hadn't talked to her since.  Manning also told police his relationship with McPhatter was sexual and that she called him "Teddy."

* * *

On Tuesday, the defendant testified in court saying that police bullied him into giving a confession on the night of his arrest.

Manning said he was "terrified" during his arrest because police cuffed him in his boxer shorts and ripped his tank top.  Manning also said he was never read his rights or given a chance to call an attorney.

The prosecution, however, fired back saying police had Manning's signature on the paperwork, and that he even checked a box indicating that his rights had been read to him without fear or intimidation.

The prosecution called several detectives to the stand on Tuesday who questioned Manning for seven hours after his arrest.  They said Manning signed an 11-page statement, 22 times, detailing what Manning told investigators on the night of McPhatter's death.

One investigator told the court that Manning confessed after the officer informed Manning that police had found McPhatter's car.

The detective then said Manning admitted that he and McPahtter had an argument and that the shooting was an accident.

* * *

On September 9, 2010, the attorney representing Manning sent a letter to 5th Circuit Solicitor Barney Giese and Assistant Public Defender Luke Shealey which indicated Manning's intention to plead guilty to the murder charge.

The letter stated "Your office has provided significant amounts of discovery over the past two weeks that has significantly affected the case."  The letter went on to state, "We have reviewed the new information with Mr. Manning and he expresses a desire to plead guilty as charged."

If Manning is convicted, he faces 30 years in prison or a possible life sentence.  The assistant solicitor told WBTV on Monday that he is seeking a life sentence against Manning.

* * *

Investigators say McPhatter and Manning met through an online dating service called Tagged.com and they were involved in a relationship.

Three hours after arriving at Manning's house in Richland County, investigators say McPhatter had telephone contact with friends telling them that she needed gasoline to travel back to Charlotte.

According to Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, Manning killed McPhatter at his home during an argument concerning their relationship.

She apparently traveled to Columbia to break up with Manning and to retrieve jewelry she gave him to have repaired.

Lott said Manning shot McPhatter in the back of the head in an upstairs room in his home.

Manning then called a friend, Kendra Goodman, who was also charged in connection with the murder.  Goodman went to Manning's home and he asked her to follow him in McPhatter's car.

Manning allegedly placed McPhatter in the trunk of her own car and drove the body to Peach Road off I-77.

Manning then drove down a dirt road into a wooded area and parked McPhatter's car where he later set McPhatter's car on fire with her inside, the sheriff said.

Manning and Goodman then allegedly used McPhatter's credit cards at an ATM machine where they withdrew more than $500 from her account.

The sheriff said Manning and Goodman admitted to having sex after the murder was committed.

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