Woman gets 2nd appeal in murder of husband's 1st wife

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals is currently considering a second appeal by a woman convicted of forcing her stepchildren to participate in the murder of their mother. 52-year-old Kimberly Rene Mangrum is currently serving a life sentence for the 2002 kidnapping and murder of LeeAnn Mangrum, her husband’s first wife. Her convictions were upheld by the appeals court in 2011 and Tennessee Supreme Court in 2013, but a judge granted her a second appeal after finding the Public Defender’s office was ineffective the first time. A three-judge panel of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals heard oral arguments last month and is currently reviewing written briefs and the transcript of the 2005 trial. Defense attorney Rebecca Stevens argued before the court that there is insufficient evidence to support the convictions because the testimony of the stepchildren was not corroborated. Stevens said the prosecution’s version of the case is that Kimberly Mangrum was jealous of LeeAnn Mangrum’s relationship with her son and daughter, who were 15 and 11 years old, respectively, at the time of the murder. The children testified they were terrified of their stepmother who eventually convinced their father to go back to court and take custody of them away from their mother. They said Kimberly Mangrum woke them in the early morning hours of Sept. 8, 2002, and they drove to LeeAnn Mangrum’s mobile home. During a confrontation, Kimberly Mangrum beat LeeAnn Mangrum unconscious with a baseball bat and then drove her body to Turnbull Creek where she forced her stepson to hold her head under the water with his foot until she drowned. A fisherman discovered the body later that day. Stevens said the defense’s version of the events is that the custody fight began with the children because their mother frequently went out drinking and left no food in the house. Stevens said Kimberly Mangrum did not control the judge who awarded custody of the children to their father. She said the 15-year-old boy was not so terrified of his stepmother to prevent him from stealing her pain medication and selling it at school and that there was bad blood between him and his mother over accusations of inappropriate behavior. Stevens said it is just as likely that the children attempted to break into their mother’s home to rob her and there was an argument “that got out of control” and led to her death. She said the only evidence linking Kimberly Mangrum to the crime was a cigarette butt containing her DNA found at the mobile home. She said there was no evidence connecting her to the scene where LeeAnn Mangrum was murdered at Turnbull Creek and a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent was allowed to testify that the cigarette butt at the home appeared to have been left there recently. Stevens argued that there has not been adequate appellate scrutiny of the evidence because Public Defender Jake Lockert did an ineffective job during the first appeals process. During a December 2014 hearing before Judge Larry Wallace, Lockert admitted he was unable to find supporting case law for some of the points in his appeal. The judge agreed to grant Mangrum a second appeal. Assistant Attorney General Todd Ridley said the issues of sufficiency of evidence and corroboration of the accomplices’ testimony were already addressed by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals in its 2011 ruling and the remaining issues cited by Lockert’s first appeal were not even considered because of the lack of argument presented over discretionary rulings by the trial judge. The appeals panel will review the written briefs and the 13-volume transcript of the original trial and did not say when it expects to issue a ruling. A ruling in the first appeal came a year after it was filed. The case of Kimberly Mangrum was featured in the February premiere episode of the series “Evil Stepmothers” on the Investigation Discovery channel.