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Gordonsville woman's 1st degree murder trial next month in death of babysitter's spouse
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Gordonsville woman's 1st degree murder trial next month in death of babysitter's spouse

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ORANGE—A 27-year-old Gordonsville woman is slated to stand trial next month charged with first degree murder in the June 16 fatal shooting of a Barboursville man whose wife was the defendant’s child care provider.

Lifelong Orange County resident Brianna Cole Knicely, of Wooded Way, will also face felony charges of maliciously shooting into an occupied building and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, first offense in the death of 36-year-old James Manning, a husband, father of three and Army veteran, at his home.

Knicely has pleaded not-guilty. She has admitted to shooting Manning. The defendant is an Orange County High School graduate with an associate’s degree, according to court records, and had worked as a nurse.

Knicely had been unemployed for two months at the time of the shooting, receiving food assistance and living with the father of her children and two children, according to court documents. She has no prior criminal record.

A trial by jury in the murder case is scheduled for Dec. 2-7 in Orange Circuit Court. Court documents reveal details about the deadly incident.

Orange County Sheriff’s Office responded at 7:03 p.m. on the Wednesday evening of the shooting to the Manning house on Hamm Farm Road in Barboursville, southwestern Orange County, a small village along U.S. Route 33 with a few stores, a firehouse, playhouse, post office and two wineries.

The home is where Manning’s wife, Jessica, had until recently prior to the shooting, provided childcare for Knicely. Manning’s husband, the shooting victim, worked long hours as a UPS driver out of Charlottesville and generally was not familiar his wife’s childcare clients.

According to court documents, Knicely drove to the house with a gun in her purse looking for Jessica Manning, and shot her husband.

In a 911 call, Jessica Manning told dispatchers she thought her husband was shot and there was blood all over, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office criminal complaint by Inv. Bryan Seal in court records.

At this point, a deputy spoke with Jessica Atkins, Knicely’s mother, who “advised her daughter is losing her mind and she believed she had killed the babysitter’s husband.”

There had been no contact between Knicely and Jessica Manning since June 1, following a payment dispute, according to court records.

The night of the shooting, Jessica Manning found mail near her sidewalk with Knicely’s address on it and recovered a .380 casing from the front porch.

Several neighbors heard multiple gunshots on June 16 and one observed a small, black car speeding down the driveway after the gunshots, according to the criminal complaint. Sheriff’s office Lt. Jones responded to Knicely’s home, a few miles from the Manning home, and observed a black Kia 2D in the driveway registered to the defendant.

Another deputy observed a Ruger .380 in the floorboard. A search warrant was executed at both locations, according to court documents. Numerous guns were found at Knicely’s house—rifles and pistols.

At 1:19 a.m. on June 17, Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office contacted OCSO about a traffic stop on an Acura Knicely was driving with two juveniles in the vehicle.

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The defendant subsequently told investigators in Orange that she went to the Manning house to pick up some of her kids’ clothes that had been left there.

Knicely knocked on the door at the residence and James Manning answered, according to court documents. Knicely asked Manning if Jessica was there and he said no.

Knicely said she told Manning she did not believe him and asked if she could get the clothes. She said he appeared “confused” by the request, then “Mr. James” grabbed and pulled her hair.

Knicely said “oh no” and pulled a gun out of her purse and shot Manning four times, according to the criminal complaint.

She reported she left the scene and went to Royal Market nearby on Route 33 to purchase cigarettes and soda.

Knicely then returned home to her children and their father. She stated she acted like nothing had happened, according to criminal complaint.

The court has denied several motions for Knicely’s release from Central Virginia Regional Jail in Orange. A defense motion for bail in September by court-appointed attorney Richard Harry, of Louisa, stated “it has been difficult to defend against (Child Protective Services) issues related to her children due to her incarceration.”

Harry has appeared on the defendant’s behalf at various pre-trial hearings in the past four months. A flurry of legal correspondence has centered around access to evidence, or discovery, for the defense.

Harry, in a motion for discovery, agreed to disclose to prosecutors whether he intended to rely upon an insanity defense in the case. More recently, the defendant has claimed self-defense in the apparently unprovoked slaying.

In an earlier hearing, a local judge essentially dismissed as untrue the claim of self-defense related to the alleged hair-pulling at James Manning’s residence.

Orange Circuit Court Judge David Franzen has ordered the defendant be allowed $3,500 to hire a private investigator, with travel expenses, to learn of the life and habits of the shooting victim and any associations and whereabouts prior to the shooting, according to the defense motion.

Counsel, in developing a defense, seeks to speak with as many people as possible who knew James Manning and interview witnesses to the shooting and witnesses who observed parties in the aftermath, the motion requesting court funds states.

Orange County Deputy prosecutor Donald Judy objected to the money for the P.I., saying the service should not be mistaken for a demonstration of “particularized need” to defend the case, the standard for an indigent party. Not granting money for a P.I. would not cause a fundamentally unfair trial, Judy argued.

Virginia Dept. of Forensic Science has submitted DNA evidence in the case from the grip of the gun used in the shooting. Knicely could not be eliminated as a major contributor to the profile, according to the certificate of analysis.

Primer residue from a gun was detected on the driver door handle, gear shift and steering wheel in Knicely’s vehicle she drove the night of the shooting, according to forensic analysis.

A court order in the case Oct. 29 granted Orange County Sheriff’s Office authorization for analysis of Knicely’s two cell phones found in her vehicle the night of the shooting and James Manning’s cell phone found on his person the night of the shooting.

More than two dozen witnesses have been subpoenaed to testify in next month’s four-day trial. Jury selection is expected to last most of the first day, followed by opening statements.

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