RECENT DEVELOPMENTS Willie Manning has won the right to searches for evidence relating to his 1992 case involving two students. On March 6, 2014 the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court ordered searches to be made in seven locations (for instance, in the Starkville Police Department), in the presence of representatives both of the State and of the defense. The searches are to be completed within 60 days of the delivery of the orders.
These searches result from Willie’s request for DNA testing and fingerprint comparison, which was authorized by the Mississippi Supreme Court on July 23 2013; its unanimous decision reversed its earlier 5:4 ruling against such testing. As well as requesting DNA and fingerprint testing, Willie had asked the Mississippi Supreme Court for hearings to consider the reliability of expert testimony regarding ballistics and hair analysis, but the judges denied him these hearings. A further request, to have his convictions set aside, was also turned down. You can read the Mississippi Supreme Court’s order of July 23 2013 here.
On December 12 2013, Willie Manning filed an appeal in his 1993 case involving two elderly ladies (the Brookville Garden case). He refers to the facts established in post-conviction proceedings, namely:
- Unimpeachable records, including undisclosed police notes, show that the main (and crucial) State witness lied about living in an apartment across the street from the victims: this apartment was in fact unoccupied at the time of the murders. (In statements taken in 1994 this witness said nothing about seeing Willie enter the victims’ apartment; it was not until 1996 that he testified against Willie.)
- The State did not disclose the records of the police notes that showed this witness was lying.
- This witness also lied about hearing Willie “confess” to the murders.
- This witness’s false trial testimony was given as a result of pressure brought by the State.
- The State failed to disclose exculpatory evidence about a shoeprint found at the crime scene (the shoe size of this print was size 8, whereas Willie’s shoe size is about size 11).
- Another witness further undermined his own credibility by making statements that were contradictory.
As an additional fact, Willie states that his trial attorneys failed to investigate and impeach the witnesses mentioned above, failed to investigate the shoeprint found at the murder scene, and failed to investigate other suspects. He also argues that at the evidentiary hearing the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court erred in refusing to authorize for presentation all the documents that he had requested.
Record Excerpts from this case, including the Police Department notes and the Mississippi Crime Laboratory footwear case notes, are available at the State of Mississippi Judiciary.
The State missed by over a month its deadline for filing a response to Willie’s appeal in this case, but belatedly asked for additional time. Willie asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to avoid inequity by enforcing the deadline with the same rigor that has been used against him in the past. The Court denied this request and accepted the late filing.
Willie’s appeal was necessitated by Oktibbeha County Circuit Judge Lee Howard denying him a post-hearing memorandum in this case on May 21 2013 (see Associated Press report carried by many newspapers e.g. Jackson Free Press).
BACKGROUND Willie Jerome Manning has been on Death Row in Mississippi since 1994, appealing against convictions for two double murders (the murder of two students, Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller, in 1992, and the murder of two elderly ladies, Emmoline Jimmerson and Alberta Jordan, in 1993). Both cases were in the same area, and involved the same prosecutor, Forrest Allgood. Willie has steadfastly maintained his innocence in both cases.
It was the case of the two students that brought Willie close to execution on May 7 2013, following a 5:4 decision by the Mississippi Supreme Court that denied him DNA testing and fingerprint comparison. 4 judges dissented from that decision, feeling strongly enough to issue a separate statement that included the following:
“Manning presented evidence at court that undermined the court’s case against him.”
This statement, endorsed as it was by nearly half the judges involved in the decision, calls into question the other 5 judges’ statement, publicized by the Attorney General, Jim Hood, that ‘conclusive, overwhelming evidence of guilt’ rendered testing unnecessary. Moreover, the 4 dissenting judges also noted that DNA testing might enhance public safety by identifying unknown perpetrators. (There is more about the judges’ decision on this website at Willie’s Cases.)
Willie had a ‘Motion to Stay Execution’ issued only 4 hours before the scheduled execution time on May 7 2013. The Mississipi Supreme Court judges split 8:1 on this motion, with the Presiding Justice, Justice Randolph, objecting. The decision was widely reported, including in The Washington Post. The Court did not issue a further order until July 25, when it unanimously reversed its earlier decision to deny testing.
Shortly before the scheduled execution, the Justice Department and FBI sent three letters to officials in Mississippi admitting that expert testimony given at Willie’s trial regarding hair and ballistics was flawed. Two of the letters were about hair testimony. One of these, which you can read here, states “testimony containing erroneous statements regarding microscopic hair comparison analysis was used in this case” and “it would be error for an examiner to testify that he can determine that the questioned hairs were from an individual of a particular racial group”. The third letter (available here) outlined the errors that were made in ballistics analysis,
“The science regarding firearms examination does not permit examiner testimony that a specific gun fired a specific bullet to the exclusion of all other guns in the world.”
It was as a result of these letters that Willie asked for hearings on the reliability of expert testimony regarding ballistics and hair testimony, but these have been denied him.
Willie has many serious issues to raise in this case, the case of the two students, including:
- Biological evidence should be DNA tested, using methods not available at the time of the murders (no physical evidence linked Willie to the murder scene: none of the fingerprints, hair, blood or fibers found at the scene corresponded with Willie’s). Expert hair testimony given at his trial has now been shown to have been flawed.
- Expert ballistics testimony given at Willie’s trial has also been shown to have been flawed.
- The State failed to disclose exculpatory evidence about three of its witnesses (including evidence about the witnesses’ incentives to testify in favor of the State e.g. one witness received the enormous sum of $17,500, and had the penalties for pending criminal charges hugely reduced). Yet the prosecutor himself highlighted the crucial role of witnesses in the outcome of the case.
- Secretly recorded tapes and transcripts of a telephone conversation between Willie and a key witness were not presented to the jurors. This conversation reveals the witness’s role as an undisclosed State agent (she asked questions provided by the Sheriff). Willie’s replies were not incriminatory; however, the witness herself contradicted her court evidence (e.g. saying that she didn’t know anything about someone shooting at a tree), and stated that she was being threatened with prosecution.
- Another key witness, a jailhouse informant, made inconsistent statements and an improbable “confession” involving four people being in a two-seater car, when one of those four was actually incarcerated in Alabama at the time of the crime. This witness was also able to pass a polygraph (lie detector) test implicating someone else in the crimes even before he supposedly heard Willie “confess”.
- The State used a further witness despite a warning by his uncle that he was likely to be lying.
- The State speculated that a car burglary was connected with the murders; however, no firm proof linked the burglary to the murders, and the Sheriff acknowledged that no physical evidence linked Willie to the burglary. Footprints found at the scene did not match Willie’s footwear; a jacket alleged to be Willie’s was not identified as such by the FBI; and a ‘huggie’ described as being found near Willie’s home was in fact recovered five miles from his house.
- The State accepted that Willie had alibi evidence up to 11 pm on the evening of the murders (he was at the 2500 Club). During post-conviction investigations several witnesses stated that they saw Willie at the club later than 11 pm, including between midnight and almost 1 am.
- There is a possible pattern of reliance on testimony procured unfairly (see his 1993 case, mentioned above).
- African-American people were improperly kept off his trial jury.
- His trial attorneys were ineffective at the penalty phase.
To read more about both cases, see Willie’s Cases.