Officer testifies at Mangum trial

Staff WritersDecember 10, 2010 

— When Cpl. John Tyler got to the small Lincoln Street apartment just after midnight in February he was responding to a 911 call placed by a scared 9-year-old girl, he testified Thursday.

"Once the telecommunicator heard the screaming, the complainant appeared to be scared and hung up," Tyler said describing the information he had as he entered Crystal Mangum's apartment.

Tyler was the second witness to testify Thursday in Mangum's trial, in which she faces multiple felony charges related to the Feb. 17 domestic violence call. The charges include arson, injury to personal property, resisting arrest and contributing to the delinquency, abuse or neglect of her children.

Attorneys spent five days weeding through 40 potential jurors to pick 12 and two alternates who could try Mangum without prejudging her credibility because of her false rape accusations in the Duke lacrosse case.

"That residence had a fire started in it while [Mangum's three children] were in it - by her," prosecutor Mark McCullough said, pointing at Mangum. "This case is not complicated."

Defense Attorney Mani Dexter responded in her opening statement with a quote from Dr. Phil: "Even the flattest pancake has two sides."

Dexter didn't deny that Mangum threatened to stab boyfriend Milton Walker after piling his clothes in the bathtub and setting them on fire - all in the presence of two police officers.

Dexter, however, said the officers instigated the crimes by bringing Walker back into the apartment.

"[Tyler] understands how volatile domestic situations can be," Dexter said. "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."

Dexter has hinted she intends to challenge the legal basis for an arson charge and will attempt to convince the jury 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 might never have threatened Walker. Superior Court Judge Abe Jones denied Dexter's motion to suppress the evidence, saying the officers had a duty to make sure the children were safe.

On Thursday, Tyler said when he arrived he saw the three children sitting at a table, patrol officer Hillary Thompson, and Mangum selectively picking up clothes in the bedroom and throwing them in the bathtub.

Tyler said he asked Mangum if she needed their help.

"She looked at me, and she stated, 'No I just want y'all to leave,'" Tyler said.

When he turned back toward the children, one of them asked if they were going to be able to go to school tomorrow, Tyler said.

"It just struck me as odd," Tyler said, adding he responded that they would. "He said, 'Mommy and her boyfriend were just fighting.' "

At the same time, someone knocked on the door. The 9-year-old let out a quick scream. Tyler said he saw a man standing on the stoop in the very cold morning with no shirt, shoes, and wet pants from the knees down.

Tyler said he asked the man, "Are you the other party involved here?"

At that point, the judge sent the jurors to lunch, and then sent them home to address other court business.

Testimony is scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m. today.

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

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