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Pacolet Trial: Suicide, Murder, Manslaughter, or Accident?

Posted on Jun 04, 2014

The Spartanburg County murder trial of Carolyn Manis, a Pacolet woman accused of shooting her husband in 2010, started Monday. Before the jury came in, the State revealed in pretrial motions it offered Mrs. Manis an involuntary manslaughter plea, but she rejected it.

In opening statements, prosecutors stated she admitted she held the shotgun that killed her husband Alan. The defense countered in its opening statement by telling jurors this was a suicide, noting gunpowder residue was not found on Ms. Manis’s hands, but was found on her husband’s.

Testimony began with the playback of Ms. Manis’s 911 call. In it, she says the couple was playing around with a shotgun. She thought the safety was on, but it wasn’t, and the gun went off.

While only the jurors will make the ultimate decision in this case—and we must always remember for any trial, it is usually only the jurors who review all the evidence, hear all the testimony, get educated on the law by the judge, and become truly “experts” in the case—it seems the defense presents compelling evidence of Ms. Manis’s innocence here. The lack of gunshot residue on her hands could create a reasonable doubt she intentionally killed her husband. Expect the State to offer an explanation for that lack of gunshot residue evidence. Because Ms. Manis’s 911 call also indicates the shooting may have been an accident, the jury might be instructed by the judge on the law of accident.

Here’s the law applicable to this case as I see it so far:

  • Murder. In South Carolina, this is killing with malice. The State must prove malice beyond a reasonable doubt. Malice is basically the desire to do evil: the intent to hurt or a wicked spirit determined to do wrong.
  • Involuntary manslaughter. The rejected plea offer involves admitting to unintentionally killing Mr. Manis without malice, either by committing an illegal act not amounting to a felony and not naturally tending to cause death or great bodily harm, or by a lawful act with reckless disregard for the safety of others.
  • Accident. Accident is a defense. To win on this, the jury must find that the shooting was unintentional, that Ms. Manis acted lawfully at the time, and that she handled the shotgun with due care.

Without a doubt, this will be an interesting trial, and our criminal defense attorneys will be watching it closely.

Regardless how it turns out, this is an agonizing tragedy for all the lives touched by the loss of Mr. Manis. At Holland & Usry, we have a lot of confidence in juries. They’re made up of everyday people who live in our community who are capable to do the one thing people are supposed to do—the right thing. We’re confident this case will be no different.