In the Al Jazeera America program featuring Willie Manning (Flawed Forensics, episode 3 of the series, The System), the director, Joe Berlinger, decides that to be balanced and fair he should interview family members of one victim of the crimes for which Willie has convictions. Berlinger later states:
“Both sides that we’ve met so far are personable and believable…”
From Willie’s point of view, however, Tiffany Miller’s family is not on the other side. He feels for them and is sorry that they have been misled. He regrets that in publicizing the Court’s verdict of ‘overwhelming evidence of guilt’ last year, the Attorney General, Jim Hood, neglected to mention that nearly half of the judges reached the opposite conclusion, deciding that Willie had ‘presented evidence at trial that undermined the State’s case against him’. And that, though the court’s eventual decision to allow DNA and fingerprint testing was made without explanation, it is reasonable to assume that the minority view did eventually prevail with all the judges.
As Pam Cole and her daughter, Ann Marie Templeton, show us their beloved Tiffany in photos and videos, and describe their memories and regrets, it is abundantly clear that Tiffany was very much loved (for instance, Pam Cole says “I can’t help but say the world has lost a wonderful child”). And that their grief is still raw and painful. Pam Cole describes how after Tiffany died she wanted to change places with her. The two women feel that the execution of the man that they believe was responsible for snatching Tiffany from them would allow them to move beyond this stage.
Pam Cole feels that certain points are clear-cut evidence of Willie’s guilt. The points are highlighted later in the program, as Berlinger focuses on the facts in the case, but without concluding that the evidence proves Willie’s guilt. Perhaps Berlinger’s view is relevant here:
“Trials are often not about seeking the truth, but about who presents the best narrative.”
Perhaps it was the State that presented the best narrative at Willie’s trial.
There was also huge pressure on the police at the time when Willie was arrested: Jerry Mitchell, an investigative reporter at the Clarion Ledger, recalls the public anxiety after two double murders occurred in the area:
“So it’s just this awfulness is kind of going around, so it’s very much huge pressure on the police to arrest and find somebody guilty of this”.
In his amicus brief submitted for Willie’s 1993 case, Samuel Gross (Director of the National Registry of Exonerations) suggests that pressure such as this may lead to wrongful convictions:
“This intense focus on murder … may also increase the number of wrongful murder convictions… the authorities pursue murder prosecutions when the evidence is marginal and the risk of error is substantial; the extraordinary emotional and practical pressures to secure convictions for heinous crimes tempt police officers and prosecutors to cut corners.”
One thing is certain – that for Pam Cole and her daughter the wounds are still very much open, and that their suffering has gone on for far too many years. Our focus on achieving justice for Willie Manning should not blind us to that.
We wish Willie Manning a happy 46th birthday today, June 12 2014.