Paying Attention to Fingerprints

On November 10, Willie Jerome Manning completed 19 years on Mississippi death row. Two days earlier, Kash Delano Register  was released after spending 34 years in prison in California for a murder that he did not commit, after a witness admitted that her testimony had been a lie. As in Willie’s case, fingerprints found at the murder scene did not match those of the convicted man.

Dismissing fingerprint discrepancies seems to be common practice: Missouri’s St Louis Post-Dispatch last month reported finding 100 people arrested in error over the past 7 years, and added:

“Almost all the mistakes could have been prevented — or at least fixed immediately — had authorities paid attention to what fingerprints tried to tell them from the start.”

Willie’s request for fingerprint comparison, as well as DNA testing, will be considered at the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court some time in the coming months. Although the Mississippi Crime Lab ruled out Willie as the source of the prints, it did not compare the prints found in the car to prints in any major database. Willie believes that the person who committed the crime of which he has been convicted is likely to have fingerprints in such a database. As Justice Kitchens wrote in April,

“The victims’ families and the public at large deserve to know whether another, or an additional, perpetrator was involved.”

We trust that Willie will soon be given the opportunity to find out who left those fingerprints.

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