Court

A mother returned to the courtroom seeking to keep her 6-year-old daughter’s murderer behind bars.

On Saturday, May 29, 1982, 6-year-old Wendy Mancil left her mother’s home near Carrville to ride her bicycle.

“She was going outside to play,” Mancil’s mother Debra Huey said Thursday. “I was making a picnic lunch for an outing later in the day.”

Mancil never came home. She was reported missing and, according to stories in The Dadeville Record at the time, more than 300 looked for her including a neighbor named Danny Ash.

“On Sunday afternoon after she was confirmed missing, (Ash) came to the house offering tea,” Huey said. “He said he was going to help look for her.”

Ash was 17 at the time.

Law enforcement also talked to Ash. As a juvenile, Ash’s father who retired from the Air Force and held an appointment as a Methodist pastor in Carrville, signed documents waiving Ash’s Miranda rights. This was just three days after Mancil’s disappearance on the day Mancil’s body was found on property Ash was living on and a little more than a month before Ash’s 18th birthday. Ash confessed to killing Mancil just days earlier using rope and a sock to tie her up.

A post-mortem exam revealed Mancil died by ligature strangulation.

Ash pleaded guilty to murder and kidnapping in June 1983 but was 17 years 10 months old — a juvenile by legal definition — when he committed the act in May 1982. Ash accepted a deal as a jury was being selected to avoid a possible sentence of death. On Thursday, Ash was before Fifth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Steve Perryman for a resentencing hearing because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 a life without parole sentence was unconstitutional for juvenile offenders.

Despite being 17 at the time, Ash was married — something his parents knew about — and was living in a storm shelter behind his wife’s parents’ home where it is alleged Ash killed Mancil before disposing of the body on the property nearby.

A 12-year volunteer at Donaldson Correctional Center where Ash is housed testified Ash was one of his best students with a great attitude; he was always there and participating. Alabama Department of Corrections records offered in Thursday’s hearing state Ash has only been disciplined twice during his 37 years of incarceration. Those occurred during Ash’s first two years in prison.

Janice Ash, Danny Ash’s mother, testified Ash had a normal childhood getting corporal punishment along with his brothers.

“Sometimes he got a spanking or something taken away,” Janice said. 

Janice said Danny was 6 or 7 years old when the family started to move as the Alabama/West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church appointed them to different churches. She said he did OK in school.

“He did good until falling behind in reading,” Janice said. “He regularly attended church, vacation Bible school and Sunday school.”

Janice said she and her husband allowed Ash to marry at 17, just months before Mancil’s murder, and he moved to Ash’s wife’s property where he started to drink alcohol.

“He wasn’t used to it,” Janice said. “(I was concerned about him getting married) but didn’t do anything. He was not old enough.”

In the months leading up to the murder, Ash had two automobile accidents, one with a head injury and was hit in the head with a baseball.

Janice, 80, said if Ash were to be released from prison she had a bedroom in her home in Kentucky he could live in and he would help her around the house while his brothers helped find him work.

Dr. Guy Renfroe testified he evaluated Ash in 1982 for the purpose of providing data to a judge to determine if Ash should be tried as an adult. Renfroe said Ash had an IQ in the 86th percentile scoring between 117 and 119 and he had a higher-than-average intelligence and average non-verbal logic and attention to detail.

Legally maturity was something Renfroe said he could not determine and is left up to the judge and jury. He said the test used in 1982 is different now having been updated twice and would be criticized in today’s legal world but was appropriate at the time. Renfroe was also shocked to hear Renfroe’s IQ was measured at 80 by the Alabama Department of Corrections. He said some change up or down would be usual but not by that amount.

Perryman said he will issue a ruling but needs to review the mounds of documents surrounding the case and the law.

Huey wants to see Ash stay behind bars. She offered a victim impact statement as Perryman evaluates Ash’s sentence.

“Mr. Ash has been in prison for 37 years,” Huey said. “I’ve been without my daughter for 37 years. If he gets out, he will have a chance for a life. My daughter won’t.”

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.