Man Pleads Guilty in 2006 Murder
A Robbins man charged with raping and killing an 80-year-old woman in 2006 will likely spend the rest of his life in prison after agreeing to a plea deal.
Johnny Cletes Maness, 53, pleaded guilty late Tuesday to second-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and robbery with a dangerous weapon in the death of Ruthie Jane Morgan, according to District Attorney Maureen Krueger.
He was set to stand trial and could have faced the death penalty if convicted.
Superior Court Judge Paul Geffner sentenced Maness to a minimum of 519 months (43.25 years) and a maximum of 558 months (46.5 years) in prison. He recommended protective custody and mental health treatment.
"I met with the victim's family, and they are satisfied that he will die in prison," Krueger said.
A State Highway Patrol helicopter spotted Morgan's body in the woods behind her pig farm on Jan. 11, 2006. She had been stabbed to death. Her land bordered N.C. 24-27 and Mount Carmel Church Road between Robbins and Carthage.
Detectives found Morgan's 1983 light blue Ford pickup truck three days later south of Georgetown, S.C. Finding the truck along with some other evidence helped deputies obtain a first-degree murder warrant for Maness. A cigarette butt collected from the ashtray of the truck contained Maness' DNA. Maness was taken into custody on January 30, 2006, near Beaumont, Texas, and extradited to North Carolina.
Maness, who lived on Mount Carmel Church Road not far from Morgan, has an extensive criminal record including arrests and convictions for several assaults, including one on a law enforcement officer and convictions for breaking out of prison or jail in 1976, 1977, 1987, 1990 and 1991.
Kimberly Stevens, of Forsyth County, and Craig Blitzer, of Rockingham County, represented Maness. They were assisted by other members of the Capital Defender's Office in Durham. His attorneys presented numerous school, mental health and Department of Corrections records dating back to the 1970s showing that Maness was borderline retarded and "was significantly functionally maladaptive," according to Krueger.
Maness had been housed in the medical unit of the Department of Corrections pending trial, and his attorneys advised the court that he had been diagnosed with cancer.
Many family members of Morgan were present in the courtroom. Three nephews and one niece offered victim impact testimony.
"They described the 80-year-old as a healthy, loving aunt, sister and daughter who spent her entire life dedicated to taking care of her family," Krueger said in a statement. "They told the judge that their family was devastated by Ms. Morgan's brutal death, but that they had family and faith to get them through it."
According to the testimony, Morgan -- "Miss Ruthie," as many called her -- worked in a mill until she was 76. Despite her age, she maintained the family home place, took care of chronically ill family members, and ran a farm, all while working full time in the mill. They said that she was the family historian, always remembered birthdays with a card and a small gift and was in daily contact with nieces and nephews until her death.
Probably the last people to see Ruthie Morgan alive were employees at Greene's Hardware in Robbins. Morgan had gone there the morning of her murder to buy feed. She would come in every week to buy feed, said Larry Marley, who had worked at the store for 15 years.
She lived alone and had never married, according to her relatives.
"She was a very nice lady, very soft-spoken," Marley said, "Everybody liked her."
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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