Today, November 10 2014, is a significant landmark for Willie Jerome Manning: on this day it is twenty years since he first entered Mississippi’s death row. When he was taken onto death row the first official White House website had just been launched under the Presidency of Bill Clinton; and cell phones were the size of house bricks. Twenty years ago Willie’s daughter was just two years old; since then she has gone through childhood and adolescence, and is now a grown woman of twenty-two. A lot can happen in twenty years.
For Willie, however, all this has passed him by. For twenty years – a staggering 7,305 days – there has been just the monotony and isolation of his tiny cell, a monotony broken only by walks to and from the shower room, and, if the weather is fine on weekdays, to a single-man yard pen (cage) outside for an hour’s very limited exercise.
In this harsh environment, Willie has had to focus on the depressing details of four murders, and discover the complexity – and sometimes apparent perversity – of the legal process. 2006 was a terrible year, when his hope of imminent exoneration and release was snatched from him with an unexpected and unexplained court decision. 2013 was traumatic: he came within hours of execution with his request for DNA testing unmet. He coped well until he received the stay of execution: since then he has suffered from extreme stress and anxiety as a result of so nearly being killed.
Now, at last, things seem to be going better for Willie. DNA evidence for his first case has been found, and is being held securely, pending testing; and his second case reached oral argument in the Mississippi Supreme Court two weeks ago, broadcast to the world via a Youtube link. But after twenty years of hardship and disappointment it is immensely hard for him to remain focused on clearing his name; it is his supporters now who sustain him. As he said in a recent letter,
“It’s only because of everyone who cares about me – who has put in so much hard work to get where I am – that I survive.”
Please send Willie a message of support and encouragement here (foot of the page): we will pass it on to him. As he contemplates twenty wasted years, your messages really will make a difference.