District Attorney General Dan Armstrong presented sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that Hawkins County resident Beth Anne Manis committed voluntary manslaughter in the 2016 shooting death of her niece by marriage, Brittany Murray, an appeals court has ruled.
The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals also concluded Criminal Court Judge John F. Dugger Jr. did not err when he denied a judicial diversion for Manis.
Despite the adverse ruling from the appeals court, Manis, 46, won a huge victory at the June 2018 trial. Manis was indicted for first-degree murder and could have faced life without parole if convicted.
A jury found her guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Dugger sentenced her to five years and six months.
She’s been free on an appeal bond since her conviction.
Manis’ claim of self-defense didn’t match the evidence, according to the 29-page opinion. Manis testified that Murray, 25, was charging her and within a couple of feet when she fired a single shot from a .357-caliber revolver into Murray’s head, killing her instantly, according to the opinion.
Murray’s body was found more than 20 feet or more from Manis’ mobile home and there was no evidence the body had been moved after her death, according to the opinion. The appeals court held that the jury heard the evidence, and the panel rejected the state’s assertion that the killing was premeditated.
“However, the jury, as was its prerogative, also rejected the defendant’s claim that her use of lethal force was reasonable under the circumstances,” the opinon states. “The jury was free to accredit portions of her testimony at trial and reject others … The evidence is sufficient to support the jury’s determination that (Manis) did not act in self-defense.”
The initial disagreement between Murray and Manis involved Manis confronting Gary Murray, the victim’s father, about his allegedly spreading a rumor that Manis and the man had a previous sexual relationship, according to the opinion.
Prior to the shooting, Manis and Murray exchanged contentious and profane text messages. One message stated, in part, “You know where I live. Come on, Honey. Cussing (on the phone) is lame. Come here physically. Have a plastic surgeon lined up.” Manis testified she had consumed several shots of vodka prior to the fatal shooting, according to the opinion.
Before sentencing Manis to five-and-a-half years, Dugger adequately explained why he rejected a judicial diversion, including that allowing Manis would to walk would have no deterrent value to others.
“They’ll say nothing happened (to Manis),” Dugger was quoted as saying. “She shot (the victim) in the forehead with a .357 and (the victim) was in the road unarmed.”
Judge D. Kelly Thomas, writing for the unanimous court, assigned an apparent motive to Dugger’s stern observations.
“The trial court’s remarks regarding the jury’s lenient verdict were an implicit finding that (Manis) committed a greater offense than the one for which she was convicted … The record reflects that the trial court carefully considered each factor relevant to the appropriateness of judicial diversion in this case,” the opinon states.
The appeals court also concluded that Dugger did not err when he declined to give the jury a special self-defense jury instruction and that Manis’ constitutional rights were not violated by the absence of a jury verdict form regarding self-defense.