Eddie Vincent Rutledge shot and killed a man who was hours away from testifying against him in a burglary, prosecutors say.
“Every citizen’s worst fear when they come upon a crime … is that if they call 911, if they decide to cooperate or testify, that someone will retaliate against them,” Assistant State Attorney Emily Walters said at the start of Rutledge’s trial Wednesday. “And on Nov. 25, 2007 … Mr. Eddie Rutledge made all of those fears a horrific reality.”
Rutledge, 34, is on trial for the second time in the shooting death of George Mannarino Jr., 45. Rutledge is charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
Three years ago, the state’s Fourth District Court of Appeal granted Rutledge a new trial, wiping away a 2010 conviction and life in prison sentence. The appellate court ruled Rutledge’s rights were violated when he wasn’t given a chance to seek a new attorney over a potential conflict of interest claim.
The victim’s 86-year-old father, George Mannarino Sr., said he’s concerned that because of that “technicality,” Rutledge has a new chance at freedom.
“I just don’t want to see him found not guilty,” he said during a courtroom break Wednesday. He described his son as a strong person who doted on his mother and ran a pressure-washing business.
Attorney Chris Haddad, appointed by the court to represent Rutledge for the retrial, said there’s no solid proof that his client was the shooter.
“This case boils down to one single question: Who shot George Mannarino?” Haddad said in his opening statement. He said no one saw who fired the murder weapon.
Prosecutors argue Rutledge can be linked to the crime through DNA on the rifle used to kill Mannarino.
But Haddad said the rifle used to kill Mannarino can be connected to Kenakil Chuka Gibson, an accomplice in the 2006 burglary witnessed by Mannarino in the gated Oaks East community of Palm Beach Gardens.
Gibson, 32, was also charged in Mannarino’s murder and was convicted at a trial six years ago. He is serving a life sentence.
On Wednesday, the prosecutor said Rutledge went to a West Palm Beach gun range, where a special scope was attached to the rifle.
Rutledge also unsuccessfully tried to secure an alibi for the burglary and hire a hit man to kill Mannarino, Walters told the jury.
Maria Copeland, who was engaged to Mannarino, testified she was standing next to her fiancé in his garage at about 9 p.m. on the night before he was to testify. As he reached to light a cigarette, the couple noticed a car was “creeping” on the street.
Suddenly there was a loud boom, which caused her to temporarily lose her hearing and close her eyes.
Clutching a tissue and wiping tears on the witness stand, Copeland recalled how Mannarino, “looked at me like he wanted to talk but couldn’t.”
When the police arrived minutes later, Mannarino was dead from a single gunshot wound to the neck, said the prosecutor.
The trial could take about two weeks, Circuit Judge Charles Burton said.