Manigault identified as suspect in death of Bluffton's Mitchell

rlurye@islandpacket.comJune 3, 2014 

Three weeks after an elderly Bluffton woman was slain in her home, police still await the results of evidence testing that they believe will make or break the case against their sole suspect.

The Bluffton Police Department has eliminated several potential leads in the death of 70-year-old Polly Ann Mitchell, leaving Jerry Lee Manigault, 50, of Hollywood as the only suspect, Capt. Joseph Manning said Tuesday.

However, officers won't make a decision about filing charges in the May 12 killing until they get additional results of evidence testing from the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office and the S.C. Law Enforcement Division, Manning said.

Manning said he did not know when tests of Manigault's DNA would be completed, but added he was anxious to receive the results.

"We'd love to get this stuff back tomorrow. We'd love to have gotten it back yesterday," Manning said. "But we're not the only case (the Sheriff's Office and SLED) are working."

He would not provide additional details of the investigation, including Mitchell's cause of death. Investigators have spent the past weeks reviewing their reports and interviewing those whose DNA and fingerprints were found in Mitchell's home on Buck Island Road, Manning said.

A relative of Mitchell's, Sharon Brown, said she is relieved the investigation is making progress.

"Once they confirm it is the individual they think it is, I know ... I'll be able to rest easier," said Brown, 55.

Manigault remains in a Charleston jail, where he is being held without bond on charges of murder, kidnapping and first-degree burglary in connection with the death of Julia Mudgett, 77, who lived near Manigault in a mobile home in Hollywood, S.C., south of Charleston.

The Charleston County Sheriff's Office charged Manigault with Mudgett's death May 16, the day her body was found in woods about a half-mile from her home. She had disappeared 10 days earlier.

Maj. Eric Watson of the Charleston County Sheriff's Office said the case was made quickly because evidence testing on Mudgett's car was finished within five days. It proved her blood was found in the trunk of her car, which Manigault apparently had stolen.

However, testing can take much longer depending on what investigators are looking for, Watson and Manning said.

Investigators say Manigault was seen driving Mudgett's vehicle on Buck Island Road on the morning of May 12, shortly before Mitchell was killed and several hours before the car was found submerged near a Ridgeland boat landing.

Manigault was taken to Charleston on May 12 after he was arrested in Beaufort County on a warrant and a charge of possessing cocaine.

At a vigil for Mitchell last month, Brown's brother, Johnnie, said Manigault was a familiar face on Buck Island Road, but neighbors were not sure why he returned to the area last month or who he was staying with. At the time, he was wanted for failure to re-register as a sex offender

The community is organizing a neighborhood watch to improve communication about crime, Sharon Brown said. Police will answer questions and offer some instruction at the watch committee's first meeting, 4 p.m. Saturday at 150 Buck Island Road, Manning said.

Brown said organizers want to assign street captains on Buck Island and Simmonsville roads to help keep tabs on how newcomers fit into the neighborhood, including whether they are returning from prison or a halfway house. Street captains would have been responsible for checking into Manigault's sudden appearance in the neighborhood.

"Everybody deserves a chance, but it's always good to be aware of what's going on in your community," Brown said. "Hopefully, especially for the elderly people, we can make a bigger difference than we have been."

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

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