Man believed his Pasadena landlord was warlock, killed him

Defendant found not criminally responsible for first-degree murder, will be sent to mental hospital

April 27, 2011|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

A man who told police that he killed his landlord because he believed the homeowner was a warlock who was conjuring spells against him was found not criminally responsible Wednesday and will be placed in a state mental hospital.

Neal Jesse Manning, 41, had descended rapidly into mental illness before he killed Harry Allan Wagner just past midnight on Jan. 4, according to a state psychiatric evaluation. Wagner, a 57-year-old cargo company dispatcher, was on his living room couch in his Pasadena home watching television when Manning, who had rented a room in his house for less than a year, shot him with a handgun and shotgun. Manning then surrendered to police and has been taking anti-psychotic medications since his arrest.

"I'm sorry, I didn't know what was happening to me was a mental illness," Manning said as he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. He was committed to a state facility by Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Paul A. Hackner.

"It's justice for Mr. Manning because he is getting the help he needs. But for our family, I don't think it's justice," Greg Wagner, one of the victim's two brothers, said outside the courtroom.

Prosecutors said Manning, who worked in the computer field, said "he had been hearing voices, self-described as demons," according to police, which led him to fatally shoot Wagner with weapons kept in his bedroom. Prosecutors said Manning claimed that several of his family members had practiced witchcraft when he was a child, but a niece of the defendant later characterized it as a toy-store Ouija board and "kid stuff."

His voice cracking, Greg Wagner told Hackner that his brother's murder has devastated the family, which also includes two sisters and an elderly father. The victim's four nephews and two nieces are crushed, he said.

"He'd let them be them," Richard Wagner said, adding that their brother took delight in playing board and water games with the children and giving gifts.

Greg Wagner said he blames not only Manning but faults Manning's family for not ensuring that he received psychiatric help. He also said the family should have warned his brother and another tenant, who was away when Wagner was fatally shot, about their concerns.

Wagner had told his family at Christmas dinner in Ohio that Manning had accusedhim of being a warlock bombarding Manning with thoughts. Greg Wagner said he told his brother to tell his tenant: "I am not a warlock, there are no voices coming from my head, and you need to find a new place to live."

Meanwhile, at a Christmas party in Maryland, Manning told a niece, Darlene Manning, that he was hearing voices. He spoke about dying and seemed troubled — but never spoke of killing anyone, she said in an interview. Concerned relatives took him to church and, wondering if his diabetes was at the root, pressed him to see a doctor, but Manning assured his niece he'd seen a physician. Manning stayed with her and other worried family members for several days but turned down a relative's offer of a place to live, she said.

"We reached out to him, we really tried to help him. But some people are unreachable. We tried," she said. If relatives had thought he was a danger to anyone, she said, "we would have done whatever it took."

Manning will receive psychiatric treatment, and hospital officials must periodically report his condition to the judge, who could decide whether Manning could be released.

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