Last week, an article appeared in The Root reminding us of Willie Manning’s brush with death in May. The article is headlined “The Death Penalty: How Long Will It Survive?” It goes so far as to say:
“In some ways, what’s happened to Manning is emblematic of American justice and the state of its most severe and irrevocable penalty: capital punishment.”
The article informs us that DNA testing has opened more people’s eyes to the very real possibility of killing people who are innocent (142 men and women have been exonerated after DNA testing proved their innocence). Richard Dieter, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center, is quoted as suggesting that DNA testing is a crucial factor in decreased use of the death penalty:
“DNA testing has revealed to the public that in so many cases where people thought the right person was on death row, [it] turned out to be wrong. DNA has produced some growing awareness of the irrevocable and fallible nature of the death penalty.”
The article also gives shocking information about the racist component of the application of the death penalty: we are told that despite African American people comprising 13% of the US population, they constitute 41% of death row inmates, and 35% of those executed since 1976. And executions are unevenly distributed: last year 80% of all executions occurred in the southern states.
The Root gives an indication that things could change. It tells us:
“even in states such as Texas — the longtime national leader in executions — beginning this year, prosecutors will be required to make sure that any evidence that can be tested for DNA material undergoes that process before a jury is asked to impose the death penalty.”
If this change is introduced in Mississippi it will be too late for Willie, who has been seeking DNA testing for many years. The Mississippi Supreme Court allowed him to undergo the trauma of facing his own imminent death: his scheduled execution was halted only 4 hours before it was due, and he had to wait a further 2½ months to learn that he can request DNA testing. The strain has taken its toll on Willie: in a recent letter he wrote:
“I just did not have words and I really needed some time to myself in hopes that I could get back to myself.”
He must now attempt to recover from his experience in the hostile environment of death row.
“I feel like Mississippi stepped back from the precipice, regardless of the results … by allowing the testing and avoiding becoming one of a few if not the first state ever to ignore … the probative value of post-conviction DNA evidence.”
Willie has suffered enough. We trust that the circuit court judge will finally allow him to have the DNA testing that he has been requesting for so long.