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.
In the 1992 case, 4 judges stated “Manning presented evidence at trial that undermined the State’s case against him”, and the FBI and DOJ admitted hair and ballistics testimony at his trial was flawed (see more below). In the 1993 case, Willie claims the State presented false evidence and failed to disclose evidence favorable to him (see more below).
In his 1992 case involving two students, Willie has many serious issues to raise, 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 below for points from his 1993 case).
- African-American people were improperly kept off Willie’s trial jury.
- Willie’s trial attorneys were ineffective at the penalty phase.
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 trial that undermined the State’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 More on 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 2013, when it unanimously reversed its earlier 5:4 decision to deny testing. No reason was given for the reversal, but presumably all judges were now embracing views originally held only by the minority.
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.”
Willie asked the Mississippi Supreme Court for hearings to consider the reliability of expert testimony regarding ballistics and hair analysis, but in its ruling of July 25 2013 the Court denied him these hearings. A further request, to have his convictions set aside, was also turned down.
The Oktibbeha County Circuit Court ordered searches for evidence to be made in seven locations; the searches took place in April 2014 and evidence was found.
In his 1993 case involving two elderly ladies (the Brookville Garden case), Willie has been granted oral argument, scheduled for October 27 2014 at 1.30 PM. Each side is allocated 30 minutes to present their arguments. The public will be able to view the oral arguments at the Court website.
Willie is appealing against a decision by Oktibbeha County Circuit Judge Lee Howard’s decision to deny Willie a post-hearing memorandum in this case (see Associated Press report carried by many newspapers e.g. Jackson Free Press).
Willie points out (in two briefs, submitted December 2013 and and May 2014) that this case involves substantial allegations of State misconduct resulting in wrongful conviction. He makes the following points:
- The crucial State witness, Kevin Lucious, committed perjury at Willie’s trial when he testified he watched from his apartment in Brookville Garden as Willie entered the elderly ladies’ apartment opposite. (Lucious’s trial testimony was unequivocal that he watched from his apartment; yet police canvass notes show that this apartment was vacant at the time, and that Lucious was not then living in a Brookville Garden apartment).
- The State erred in failing to disclose these police canvass notes to Willie’s trial counsel.
- The State is mistaken in asserting that other witnesses corroborated Lucious’s trial testimony about seeing Willie enter the apartment: no other witness confirmed this.
- Lucious testified at a post-conviction hearing that none of his trial testimony was true, and that he had lied because of pressure brought by the State.
- Another witness, Herbert Ashford, undermined his own credibility by making statements that were contradictory.
- The State erred in failing to disclose a crime lab report showing that a bloody shoe print next to one of the bodies could not have been left by Willie (the shoe print was size 8, whereas Willie’s shoe size is 10½).
- Willie’s trial counsel was deficient in: failing to impeach Lucious; failing to interview Willie’s brother, Marshon Manning, and call him as a witness; failing to investigate Ashford or interview Teresa Bush, who was then living with Ashford; and failing to investigate the shoeprint.
- At the evidentiary hearing the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court erred in refusing to authorize for presentation all the documents that Willie had requested.
- Amicus briefs submitted on Willie’s behalf point out that perjured testimony is the most common cause of wrongful conviction, especially in capital cases; and that incentivized witnesses contribute to these false convictions.
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 police canvass notes show that Kevin Lucious was not living in Brookville Garden at the time of the murders. (The murders occurred on January 18, 1993; Lucious moved into Apartment 11-E on February 1, 1993; Apartment 11-E was vacant when the murders happened. The police canvass notes were not disclosed by prosecutors to Willie’s trial counsel.)
You can watch a video clip about this case from an Al Jazeera America program (third video clip on the page).
To read more about both cases, see More on Willie’s Cases.