Proceedings begin in Mangum arson trial

Staff writerDecember 9, 2010 

— Prosecutor Mark McCullough opened Crystal Mangum’s arson trial today with the names of her three children, Richard, Ariana and Kayla, and the address of 2220 Lincoln St. where they were living with her in February.

“That residence had a fire started in it while they were in it -- by her,” McCullough said, pointing his finger at Mangum. “This case is not complicated.”

Defense attorney Mani Dexter, though, responded in her opening statement with a quote from Dr. Phil: “Even the flattest pancake has two sides.”

McCullough began his evidence by calling the responding officers to testify today.

Dexter did not deny the basic facts of the case: That Mangum piled her boyfriend Milton Walker’s clothes in the bathtub and set them on fire, then threatened to stab Walker, all in the presence of two police officers who had gone to the couple’s home after Ariana called 911 to say they were fighting and her mother was “going to die.” Police say Mangum also gave them her sister’s name as her own and struggled as they tried to arrest her.

She is charged with arson, injury to personal property, resisting arrest and contributing to the delinquency, abuse or neglect of her children.

But Dexter pins the blame on the officers for instigating the crimes by bringing a shirtless and shoeless Walker back into the apartment when he came shivering to the door and saying he’d been waiting in the bushes until police arrived.

“Corporal [John] Tyler has been an officer for 12 years. He understands how volatile domestic situations can be,” said Dexter. “He decides to bring Milton Walker into the house. When he does so, the kids run in fright and panic into the back of the house.

Crystal reacts. She makes a threat.”

Throughout her questioning of jurors over the past week, Dexter hinted she intends to challenge the legal basis for an arson charge. She insisted that jurors understand the law requires someone charged with arson to have set fire to someone else’s home; McCullough will have to prove the home belonged to the children and Walker as much as it did to Mangum.

Dexter will also try to convince the jury what she couldn’t convince Superior Court Judge Abe Jones last week: That police never should have entered Mangum’s home without her permission.

If they hadn’t, Dexter argued, they never would have had evidence to charge Mangum, and she may never have threatened Walker. Jones denied Dexter’s motion to suppress the evidence, saying the officers had a duty to make sure the children were safe.

McCullough, Dexter and Jones spent the past five days weeding through 40 potential jurors to pick 12 plus two alternates who could try Mangum fairly without pre-judging her credibility because of her false accusations in the Duke lacrosse case.

jesse.deconto@newsobserver.com or 919-932-8760

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