Although there has been no announcement of anything relevant to Willie Manning for over a month, his first case was cited in the media last week to illustrate issues with the death penalty system in the USA.
Al Jazeera’s ‘Inside Story Americas – The flaws in the US justice system’ uses Willie’s first case to lead into a more general discussion about the death penalty. The program starts with a clip showing Willie looking relaxed outside the Mississippi Supreme Court at the time of his original trial (Willie has written recently that it has made him smile to see clips from so long ago being played and replayed on television following his stay of execution).
An interview with one of Willie’s lawyers ensues, conducted shortly after the stay. In this the lawyer, Rob Mink, describes the importance of the two letters from the FBI and DOJ which admitted that testimony about hair and ballistics given at Willie’s trial was invalid. Mink also mentions the Attorney General’s rejection of the FBI’s offer to conduct DNA testing.
The more general discussion that follows this introduction includes a focus on Florida’s wish to speed up the appeal process for death row inmates, thus ignoring the importance of allowing enough time for defendants to gather evidence. A similar wish for haste is sometimes expressed regarding Willie’s cases e.g. in the Picayune Item in December 2012; here, as often, this view is achieved by first highlighting the enormity of the crimes, and then replicating the prosecution’s arguments only, rather than the complete court records.
Willie was also mentioned last week in the Baltimore Sun in an article by William Sessions, former director of the FBI. Sessions compares Willie’s case with that of John Huffington of Maryland, who last month had his conviction for murder overturned when DNA testing revealed that the hair that was presented as evidence at his trial did not belong to him.
Although Sessions introduces some inaccuracies about Willie’s first case, his general points are robust. He recalls discovering to his horror that in 30 out of 100 cases where biological evidence held by the FBI was tested, the DNA did not match that of the person charged with the crime.
The conclusions that he draws are strong, and very pertinent to Willie’s situation.
“If FBI forensic analysts and agents knowingly relied on flawed forensic evidence for decades, it is alarming. If men and women such as Messrs. Huffington and Manning still remain in prison, and in some cases on death row, it is intolerable. I commend the FBI for taking the necessary steps to inform defendants and prosecutors in every case where unreliable hair analysis was used.
“I urge state prosecutors and judges who are aware that the FBI provided potentially unreliable evidence or testimony, to work with defense counsel in those cases to ensure the accuracy of the verdicts, including allowing for additional forensic testing of evidence, especially DNA testing, and the pursuit of wrongful conviction claims. When evidence used to convict an individual is discovered to be unreliable, justice requires that we review that case, no matter how long ago the conviction occurred.”
It is to be hoped that officials in Mississippi will hear Sessions, and take note.