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Crime & Courts

Jail House Calls: South Carolina Supreme Court Sends Case To Appeals Court

Potentially defining battle in open records war …

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Attorneys for 34-year-old accused murderer Ryan L. Manigo – the “Butcher of Walterboro” – filed a petition with the South Carolina supreme court this week asking its justices to stay a circuit court’s order authorizing the release of his jail house calls. Hours after this petition was filed, the high court transferred the case to the state’s court of appeals – setting the stage for a potentially defining battle in this open records war.

Manigo stands accused of slaughtering six people in the horrific ‘Green Pond Massacre’ – a mass stabbing/ arson/ sexual assault incident that took place in the rural Green Pond Community in Colleton County over the Fourth of July weekend.

The details of this case are beyond horrific, and Manigo remains behind bars at the Clarendon County detention center as he awaits trial. He has been held without bond ever since his arrest – which was made after a 13-year old survivor of the massacre provided police with his identity, his description and a description of his vehicle.

Our media outlet has submitted three different Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for Manigo’s jail house calls – requests his public defenders have moved to preemptively shut down.

What are they trying to hide? Good question …

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In South Carolina, jail house calls are clearly defined as public records – meaning they are not exempt from release under FOIA. S.C. circuit court judge Robert Bonds reiterated this fundamental truth when he ruled Manigo’s calls were public records – and, by virtue of being designated as such, are subject to FOIA.

Immediately after Bonds ruled in favor of the calls being released, Manigo’s attorneys – Boyd Young, Robert Bank, and Matthew Walker – filed a motion before the judge asking him to reconsider. This motion was promptly denied – prompting the petition to the high court.

“Our goal in trying to obtain these public records is simple: To see if they might contain anything materially relevant to this case,” our founding editor Will Folks noted in a lengthy treatment of this issue last month. “That includes anything that might help answer some of the most basic questions being asked by the family members of the massacre’s victims.”

The Green Pond massacre claimed the lives of 101-year-old Maggie Magwood, 73-year-old Amose Magwood, 50-year-old Michelle Wright, 49-year-old Jefferson Burnell, 11-year-old Sariyah Manigo (the accused killer’s daughter) and 7-year-old Shamiah Rutledge.

Manigo’s attorneys asked the supreme court to temporarily block Bonds’ order releasing Manigo’s jail house calls – 72 conversations in total – to the media on November 14, 2023 (this coming Tuesday). They also asked the court to quash the order granting the release of the communications, arguing that “allowing this type of information to be released in this case will result in repetitive decisions around the State -raising broader questions about the right to have this type of ruling reviewed.”

(Click to View)

(FITSNews/ YouTube)

Citing the Palmetto State’s FOIA statutes, Manigo’s attorneys argued the S.C. General Assembly does not explicitly designate inmate or detainee recordings as public records and therefore disclosing those calls – which often contain conversations between incarcerated individuals and their loved ones – serves no public interest or urgent need.

As the purpose of FOIA is to “protect the public from secret government activity,” these telephone recordings should not be considered equivalent to public records that should be accessible by the public, Manigo’s attorneys alleged.

As our regular audience is well aware, FITSNews has been at the vanguard of this important open records conversation. We were the first media outlet to publish Alex Murdaugh’s pretrial phone calls with multiple members of his family – calls which, incidentally, exposed an attempt by Murdaugh to unethically readmit his surviving son, Buster Murdaugh, into the University of South Carolina law school.

More relevant at the systemic level, jail house calls exclusively obtained by this media outlet pulled the curtain back on other various and sundry nefariousness in our courts. Specifically, they exposed attempts by accused killers to leverage the influence of powerful lawyer-legislators like S.C. minority leader Todd Rutherford to manipulate bond dockets.

Uncovering such misconduct is the whole point of FOIA – and the whole reason we seek these public records under the law.

As we await a ruling from the court of appeals on Manigo’s petition, count on FITSNews to keep our audience up to speed on the very latest developments in the Green Pond case – as well as the broader fight for open records.

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THE PETITION …

(Via: S.C. Supreme Court)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Jenn Wood (Provided)

Jenn Wood is FITSNews’ incomparable research director. She’s also the producer of the FITSFiles and Cheer Incorporated podcasts and leading expert on all things Murdaugh/ South Carolina justice. A former private investigator with a criminal justice degree, evildoers beware, Jenn Wood is far from your average journalist! A deep dive researcher with a passion for truth and a heart for victims, this mom of two is pretty much a superhero in FITSNews country. Did we mention she’s married to a rocket scientist? (Lucky guy!) Got a story idea or a tip for Jenn? Email her at jenn@fitsnews.com.

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1 comment

Injustice 4 1 = Injustice 4 All November 10, 2023 at 7:48 pm

As another poster correctly stated in comments for a related article a week or two ago, it is not FitsNews’ place “To see if they might contain anything materially relevant to this case.”
This is the job of the prosecution, the defense, and the judge.

Jailhouse phone calls, absent something particularly newsworthy such as planning an escape or a hit, should not be fodder for media or public consumption. This is especially true if the prisoner is not convicted, yet. What is that line Fits has in its disclaimers about “innocent until proven guilty”?

In a society where laws are crafted, stretched, and twisted, each year to increase anyone’s chances of winding up in jail or prison, we should all think about how we would feel if it were us or a family member, or a close friend, who wound up in jail and having our every contact with the outside world up for public consumption.

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