In July 1990, Gary Engel, a former Willow Springs, Illinois police officer, was arrested and charged along with two other men, former Chicago police officer Steve Manning and Thomas McKillip, with the 1984 kidnapping and robbery of a drug dealer in Clay County, Missouri.
The crime had remained unsolved until 1989, when Anthony Mammolito, a drug dealer began talking to authorities while in prison on another conviction and implicated Engel, Manning and McKillip, who by then was dead.
Engel and Manning were convicted in 1991, primarily based on Mammolito’s testimony that he had hired the three to kidnap and rob a competing drug dealer named Charles Ford. Engel was sentenced to 90 years in prison. Manning received life in prison.
Engel’s appeals were denied.
After Manning was convicted in Missouri, he was brought to Chicago where he was convicted and sentenced to death in 1993 for the murder of trucking company owner, James Pelligrino, largely on the basis of testimony from a jailhouse snitch who claimed that Manning confessed to him while in jail, although the concealed tape recorder the snitch was wearing did not contain such a confession.
In 1999, Manning’s Chicago murder conviction was set aside by the Illinois Supreme Court which ruled that the trial judge had erroneously allowed Pelligrino’s widow to testify that her husband’s last words before he left their home was that if he were to be killed, Manning was to blame
In 2002, a federal appeals court granted Manning a new trial in the Missouri kidnapping case because the FBI’s use of an informant to gather evidence against Manning had violated Manning’s constitutional right to counsel.
After charges against him were dismissed, Manning later a federal civil rights lawsuit against a FBI agent and others alleging they framed Manning for the Missouri kidnapping case as well as the Chicago murder.
Discovery in that lawsuit revealed evidence calling into question Mammolito’s testimony at the kidnapping trial. The evidence had not been turned over to defense lawyers for Engle or Manning.
Specifically, there were letters from Mammolito to the prosecutor and investigators that suggested Mammolito believed there was an “agreement” for him to be paid, as well as a letter from an investigator to Mammolito’s mother that mentioned a check for $500 that was enclosed for “the help (Mammolito) provided in this very important case.”
Other evidence obtained in the Manning’s civil law suit indicated that Mammolito had made contradictory statements to the prosecution about who was involved in the kidnapping.
In February, 2010, the Supreme Court of Missouri, citing the withheld evidence that could have been used to impeach Mammolito, set aside Engel’s conviction in the kidnapping case. The state then dismissed the charges.
In October 2012, Engel and Manning, who had changed his last name to Mandell, were charged by federal prosecutors in Chicago with plotting to abduct and dismember a man they believed had access to large amounts of cash from real estate holdings. Engel committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell not long after his arrest. Mandell was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
– Maurice Possley