BEAUFORT, S.C. (WSAV) – A Lowcountry man will serve four life sentences for two brutal murders after a guilty plea in Beaufort County court Monday.
Jerry Lee Manigault was supposed to go on trial next week for the rape and murder of one woman and the murder of another, just days apart, back in 2014. He grew up in Bluffton, and one of his victims, 70-year-old Polly Ann Mitchell lived off Buck Island Road.
“He broke into the house late at night, strangled her… sexually assaulted her,” said Fourteenth Judicial Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone.
But that’s not why he was arrested in Bluffton on May 12, 2014. He was picked up as a person of interest in the disappearance of 77-year-old Julia Mudget in Charleston six days earlier, as well as failure to register as a sex offender.
It was when they arrested him that they discovered he would be charged with much more.
“He had a backpack that had the jewelry from the second burglary and the second murder victim,” Stone said, “He had actually a piece of her jewelry that he was wearing, and he had blood on his clothes that eventually the labs were able to trace back to the second victim as well.”
Manigault had driven Mudget’s car to Bluffton and had been trying to sell it near Mitchell’s house the night before her body was discovered.
Days later, Mudget’s body was found in a wooded area near her home in Charleston.
“He preyed on elderly women,” Stone said, “He was a predator.”
Manigault also has a criminal record dating back to the 1990’s including assault and battery, kidnapping, and domestic violence.
“He’s done time, he’s gone to prison, he’s gotten out of prison and he’s committed more crimes,” said Stone, “He has escalated, he’s gotten worse as time goes on, as is not unusual when you’re looking at career criminals, you see that all the time.
It took two solicitors offices, five law enforcement agencies, two forensic labs, and evidence from three counties to prosecute Manigault.
“At the end of the day, I think him spending the rest of his life in prison is what’s best for South Carolina, it’s what’s best for Beaufort County and Charleston County,” Stone said.
Manigault entered a plea Monday accepting four life sentences without parole for murder and burglary, 30 years for sexual assault and 15 for strong-armed robbery.
The Fourteenth Circuit’s Career Criminal Unit handles the area’s most habitual and serious offenders. Manigault’s case is the 40th conviction of its 43 defendants this year.