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Man Sentenced for Offering to Strangle Woman Met Over Internet

Aired June 27, 2003 - 19:18   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR: Well, ten years probation, psychiatric evaluation, and no more Internet. That was the sentence today for a man who pleaded guilty to attempted murder. His name is Frank Manuel of Houston.
After corresponding with a depressed woman he met in an online chat room, he offered to kill her during sex and bury her with a rose on her chest. She called police, who with her help, arrested Mr. Manuel. In his car, they found a strangulation device and roses.

Joining us now from Houston, Manuel's defense attorney Chris Tritico. And in Dallas, Sergeant Jeff Holland with the special crimes unit of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Sergeant, let me start off with you. How did these two come in contact with each other?

SGT. JEFF HOLLAND, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: I believe they met each other while posting to an Internet site that allowed conversations regarding suicide and depression.

COOPER: And he basically said to her that he had helped numerous other people kill themselves?

HOLLAND: That's correct. He made statements that -- in which he claimed to have done this on 11 previous occasions.

COOPER: She contacted police. You guys used her, basically, to help capture him. How did the actual apprehension take place?

HOLLAND: He gave instructions to her to travel from her home state to Houston, and gave explicit structures on how to avoid detection, and arrived at a bus station there in Houston.

We got together a group of officers, maintained surveillance and after the initial meeting, we apprehended.

COOPER: Now they found the strangulation device, as well as roses in his car, which I guess is part of what he said he was going to do to this woman. Do you have any doubt that he intended to kill her?

HOLLAND: There's no doubt in my mind.

COOPER: Were you surprised by the sentencing? I mean, he pleaded guilty to attempted murder. He got ten years probation. HOLLAND: The sentencing, of course, is up to the court system and the prosecutor's office. I was not party to that ultimate decision.

COOPER: Understood.

All right, Chris Tritico. You defended this man. Do you believe he intended to go ahead? I mean, he pleaded guilty to attempted murder. So I guess he's saying he did -- he was planning to kill her, yes?

CHRIS TRITICO, MANUEL'S ATTORNEY: Well, no, I don't think you can necessarily read into his decision to plead guilty. Quite frankly, the decision was based on the fact that Mr. Manuel didn't want to put his family through a very public trial with a lot of sordid fact and details.

COOPER: So on the one hand, he pleads guilty to attempted murder but he is claiming, he's saying he did not intend to kill her?

TRITICO: Look, Mr. Manuel met this lady on the Internet. They corresponded. They made an agreement. She came down here and he got arrested. He's not contesting any of those facts.

And this has been a very, very difficult ordeal, I'm sure for her and I know for him and his family. And Mr. Manuel made a decision that he said, "I'm not going to go through this trial. I'm not going to put my family through it. I'm going to take this deal and I'm going to get this behind me." That's what he did.

COOPER: Do you think your client has a problem, though, that he needs help with?

TRITICO: Well, Mr. Manuel's been getting help from the day he got out of jail on bond and as a condition of the plea, we didn't need it as the condition of the plea, because he's been in therapy and he's going to stay in therapy.

COOPER: And what's the therapy for? Is it for Internet obsession? Is it for desire to strangle women during sex? What exactly is the therapy about?

TRITICO: I'm not a therapist but I don't think it gets that detailed. He's been in therapy and he'll stay in therapy.

COOPER: I know obviously communication between you two is privileged, and you're not talk going to about it on national TV. I certainly understand that. But he was found with this strangulation device and these roses in his car. He doesn't contest that, does he?

TRITICO: Well, that's what was found in his car. There's no doubt about it. That was in the offense report and I have no reason to doubt that was found his car. There was photographs of it.

COOPER: Were you surprised by the sentencing? I mean, basically he's not doing any jail time? TRITICO: Well, no, I'm not surprised at all. Quite frankly, this case would have never merited a jail sentence. If we'd have picked a jury and gone to trial, the way the facts of this case played out, I do not believe that any jury would have given him jail time nor did the prosecutor.

And so we crafted a deal that was fair and just. It gives him ten years to get this behind him. And if he messes up in ten years, he can go to prison for it.

COOPER: Why was he going into these chat rooms and talking to women about strangling them during sex?

TRITICO: Well, I mean, I can't answer that for you, because what I talk to him about is still privileged, but this is a thing that he got involved in. It's something I know that he wishes he had never gotten involved in, and got immersed in this different world and different situation and different lifestyle, and it certainly has changed his life and his family.

COOPER: Sergeant, he had told this woman that he'd been involved in about a dozen or so other killings. Do you -- are you still investigating this?

HOLLAND: Yes, sir.

COOPER: So this is still an active investigation. You're looking into his plans?

HOLLAND: Yes, sir. We're -- several avenues of further investigation that are still under investigation at this time.

COOPER: Chris Tritico, do you think you're done with your client? Do you think he's going to be seeing any more time in the courtroom? I mean, if there's an investigation ongoing, are you concerned about that?

TRITICO: I'm not concerned about that. It's my firm belief, as well as the prosecutor here in Harris County, in Houston, that Mr. Manuel has not committed any other acts.

COOPER: Gentlemen, thank you. I appreciate you joining us. It's a fascinating case. We're going to continue following it. Thanks very much.



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