The disclosure of jailhouse calls made by the “Butcher of Walterboro” – accused mass killer Ryan L. Manigo – remains a matter of dispute following the dismissal of an appeal ordered last Thursday (January 25, 2024) by the South Carolina court of appeals.
The appellate court declined to rule on the underlying issue – whether Manigo’s recorded phone calls are subject to the Palmetto State’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Instead, it sent the matter back to circuit court for “further factual development.”
Our media outlet submitted three different FOIA requests for Manigo’s jail house calls – requests his taxpayer-funded defenders moved to preemptively shut down. In response, our founding editor Will Folks retained legal counsel to gain access to these public records – and S.C. circuit court judge Robert Bonds agreed with our right to have them.
Manigo is awaiting trial on 21 charges related to the ‘Green Pond Massacre’ – a mass stabbing/ arson/ sexual assault incident that took place in the rural Green Pond Community in Colleton County, S.C. over the Fourth of July weekend last year. He is facing six counts of murder, six counts of possessing a weapon during the commission of a violent crime, two counts of kidnapping, two counts of criminal sexual conduct, two counts of criminal sexual conduct with a minor, one count of incest as well as an arson charge.
The lone surviving victim of the attack – a 13-year-old girl – helped authorities identify and locate Manigo despite having sustained serious injuries.
The details of this case are monstrously graphic. According to the arrest warrants (.pdf) obtained by this media outlet, Manigo – a grocery store butcher – entered the home at 779 Folly Beach Drive in Green Pond “under the cloak of darkness while armed with a knife.”
Most of the victims of this massacre – four adults and three children – were related to each other. All of them had gathered for the Fourth of July holiday weekend at the home of the family matriarch, 101-year-old Maggie Magwood. According to the warrants, five of the victims – 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 – were stabbed to death by Manigo. Centenarian Maggie Magwood died of smoke inhalation – a result of the fire Manigo allegedly set prior to fleeing the scene. Family members say Maggie Magwood took Manigo into her home and took care of him – making the violent murders all the more senseless.
Found on the front porch of the residence, the surviving victim juvenile victim was stabbed multiple times and had to be air-lifted from the scene to a trauma center where she was treated for serious injuries. Before she was transported, though, she told the responding deputies what happened – and who did it.
After stabbing the family members to death, Manigo “unlawfully seized and confined the juvenile and her juvenile cousin inside the residence, forcibly raping them both at knife point,” according to the warrants. He then proceeded to “set the house on fire and stabbed both juveniles multiple times, killing the juvenile cousin,” the warrants alleged.
Soon after Manigo’s arrest, FITSNews and other media outlets filed FOIA requests to obtain information related to the case – including audio recordings of his jailhouse phone calls. His public defenders filed a motion requesting that the phone calls be protected from disclosure. Bonds denied the motion and Manigo appealed the circuit court decision.
The recent order from the appeals court informed the Colleton County Detention Center and the Clarendon County Detention Center – the two facilities where Manigo has been held since his arrest last July – to release non-exempt recordings of the phone calls and to provide three days notice of their intent to release them to the requesting parties, including FITSNews.
The notice period is to provide Manigo and his counsel an opportunity to seek further relief.
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While the order cannot be appealed, Manigo’s attorneys have nonetheless already petitioned the appeals court for a rehearing. Assuming that petition is denied, Manigo intends to challenge the release of these recordings on a call-by-call basis.
“In the event that the motion for a rehearing is denied, the next step would be to have a hearing where we go through each of the 69 calls (that the state hasn’t already exempted) and assert exemptions as to each one of them,” said Boyd Young, chief attorney for the S.C. Commission on Indigent Defense (SCCID). “The logistics of that hearing need to be discussed, because we can’t play them in open Court while also claiming a privacy exemption. My estimation is that it is about two hours of calls, and that to play the call, hear from the defense about exemptions, and rule as to each one, would take half to three-quarters of a day.”
The petition for a rehearing asks the appeals court to decide En Banc “whether the petitioner’s state and federal Constitutional rights would be violated by the release of his jail calls.”
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.
Count on us to vigorously pursue public records in every case we cover …
THE ORDER …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Callie Lyons is a journalist, researcher, and author whose investigative work can be found in media outlets, publications, and documentaries all over the world – most recently in the Parisian newspaper Le Monde and a German documentary for ProSieben. Lyons also appears in Citizen Sleuth – a 2023 documentary exploring the genre of true crime.
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