A public defender's argument that evidence painting suspect Jerry Lee Manigault as a murderer was circumstantial failed to sway a judge to drop the charges against him Tuesday during a preliminary hearing.
Charleston County sheriff's deputies in May charged Manigault, 53, of Hollywood, with kidnapping, strong-arm robbery, first-degree burglary and murder in the death of 77-year-old Julia Mudgett, of Toogoodoo Road in Hollywood.
Manigault remained at the Cannon Detention Center during Tuesday's hearing. His attorney, Ashley Pennington, spoke on his behalf, and Assistant Solicitor Denton Matthews served for the prosecution.
Investigators have alleged that Manigault, a registered sex offender, broke into Mudgett's home and killed her, then stole her burgundy-colored Hyundai Elantra sometime between May 4 and May 6.
The vehicle was located days later at a Jasper County boat landing.
Authorities found Mudgett's body covered in cloth in a wooded area less than a mile from her home on May 16, 10 days after a friend had reported her missing.
She died from blunt force trauma having suffered nine skull fractures, the hearing revealed.
"All signs pointed to the defendant," Charleston County Detective Matthew Downing said of investigators linking Mudgett's blood-stained car to the suspect.
Several tipsters reported seeing Manigault, known as "Jitty" on the street, driving the car in the Bluffton area around the time of Mudgett's disappearance, Downing said. Manigault eventually sold the car to a male relative for $100, only to contact the man later saying he should get rid of it before he got into any trouble.
Manigault never indicated to his relative that the vehicle was connected to a murder investigation, according to Downing. He instead said it had been stolen out of Georgetown.
Pennington argued that being linked to Mudgett's car wasn't enough to prosecute Manigault for the woman's death or the burglary to her home.
If anything, Pennington said, possession of a stolen motor vehicle would be a more appropriate charge due to a lack of evidence placing Manigault at the scene of the crime.
According to Downing, no one heard or saw the break-in.
Investigators found blood spattered on the walls and floor of Mudgett's ransacked home the day she was reported missing. But DNA evidence that could potentially place Manigault in Mudgett's home was still being processed Tuesday by State Law Enforcement Division agents, Downing said.
The woman's corpse was too badly decomposed to determine if Manigault's DNA was on her body, he said.
Investigators did, however, find a key to Mudgett's portable oxygen tanks in Manigault's possession, Downing said.
Pennington alleged that cellphone records placing Manigault in Bluffton around the time of Mudgett's death essentially gave the suspect an alibi. Matthews, countered saying a 12-hour gap in the records was "more than enough time for (Manigault) to travel between" Beaufort and Charleston counties.
At the hearing's conclusion, Magistrate James Gosnell ruled that the evidence gathered had amounted to probable cause, allowing the case to move forward.
Manigault is also facing charges of murder, sexual battery, burglary and grand larceny in the slaying of 70-year-old Polly Ann Mitchell, of Bluffton.
Police say Manigault broke into Mitchell's home on Buck Island Road on May 12, assaulted her and killed her. He also stole $2,000 in property from Mitchell's home, authorities alleged.
Manigault's status as a sex offender stemmed from convictions in a July 1996 kidnapping and assault.
Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.