SC man sentenced to 30 years in murder of Charlotte airline worker

Nikki McPhatter (Photo courtesy of Facebook)
Nikki McPhatter (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

By Kay Johnson - email

RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WBTV) - A South Carolina man has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for murdering a Charlotte airline worker, before setting her car on fire.

A jury in Columbia, South Carolina found Theodore Manning, IV, guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the 2009 murder of 30-year-old Nikki McPhatter.  McPhatter was a US Airways employee who went missing and was found three weeks later in the trunk of her burned vehicle.

Manning received the maximum sentence in the case, getting 30 years in prison.

The trial was in its second week and investigators shared details about the defendant's confession to the crime.

Sgt. Shawn McDaniels with the Richland County Sheriff's Department was called to testify Monday morning about the day in which he and other officers went to Manning's home to take him into custody.

During the 30-minute ride back to the sheriff's office, McDaniels said he told Manning, "I need to know the truth, we found the car."

McPhatter's burned car and body were found in a secluded area off Peach Road.

McDaniels said Manning put his head down, and responded, "I was there, it was an accident."

McDaniels said Manning stayed with that story while giving his statement to investigators later that day.

In his statement Manning said he and McPhatter were upstairs and McPhatter found a gun in a bag. "It was a 380 highpoint. She picked it up. I told her to stop playing. I took it away from her and when I pulled it back from her, she turned around and it went off," McDaniels read.

The court also heard testimony from David Collins, a firearms examiner for the Richland County Sheriff's Department.  He said the bullet fragments removed from McPhatter's skull were consistent with a Highpoint .380, which is the type of gun in which Manning purchased.

Manning said he panicked and called his friend, Kendra Goodman.  He said Goodman suggested they get rid of her car.  He said Goodman tried to first set the car on fire, and that she was the one who suggested using Nikki's ATM cards.

Asked if Manning would have done anything differently, he said he would've called someone else that day. He then apologized for pulling the trigger saying McPhatter deserved better and he was sorry for putting both her family and his family through "this."

After being pressed about inconsistencies in his story, Manning gave a second statement. In it, he detailed a fight between him and McPhatter right before the shooting. Investigators say it was the first time Manning admitted the shooting was intentional.

In cross examination, the defense claims mistakes were made in the way the statements were written down. They say Manning shot McPhatter in self-defense, after she first pointed the gun at him.

As the statements were read aloud, Manning sat expressionless in the courtroom.

* * *

During pre-trial motions on Tuesday of last week, Manning said police bullied him into giving a confession the night he was arrested.  He also claimed police never read him his rights, or gave him a chance to call an attorney.

One investigator, however, told the court that Manning did confess to the murder after the officer told Manning that police had found McPhatter's burned car.  The detective also testified that Manning admitted that he and McPhatter had an argument, and that Manning said the shooting was an accident.

During opening statements Wednesday morning, 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 solicitor, however, told the jurors that Manning's attempt to cover up the death was malicious.

One of the witnesses called to the stand on Wednesday 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 as evidence surveillance video which showed a black male walking up to a drive-thru ATM, and bank records which showed seven different times in which McPhatter's bank card was used.  A total of $588 was withdrawn from two of McPhatter's checking accounts.

On Wednesday, a homicide detective with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department told the court that McPhatter went to Columbia, SC, to visit a person named "Teddy" and to pick up some jewelry.

The court also heard an audio recording of Manning that was recorded by CMPD detectives during their first interview with him.  On the tape, Manning told police McPhatter came to visit him and she needed gas.  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 in nature, and that she called him "Teddy."

Co-defendant Kendra Goodman, who is also Manning's friend, testified Thursday afternoon.  On the day of McPhatter's death, Goodman said Manning was driving McPhatter's car and Goodman followed behind in her own car.  They pulled over at a church located off Peach Road.  Goodman said she waited for Manning in the church parking lot.  A while later, 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.

During the court proceedings Thursday morning, the solicitor played a recording of Manning's interview with police investigators after they searched his home.  The detective also asked if Manning killed Nikki [McPhatter] to which he replied, "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."

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.

On Friday, Richland County Deputy Coroner Bill Stevens said 90 percent of McPhatter's bones were recovered from the trunk of the car, and Forensic pathologist Dr. Bradley Marcus said McPhatter was killed by a bullet to the back of her head.

Lt. Scott McDonald, an investigator with the Richland County Sheriff Department, said 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 alluded to the crime.  One of the messages said sorry for dragging you (Goodman) into this and "Don't say anything else to police..."

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.

If Manning is convicted, he faces 30 years in prison or a possible life sentence.

Background on Manning and McPhatter's Relationship

Investigators said McPhatter and Manning met through an online dating service called Tagged.com and they were involved in a relationship in 2009.

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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