The anxious wait is over: on Thursday Willie Jerome Manning was granted a new trial for his case involving the 1993 murder of two elderly African American ladies, Emmoline Jimmerson and Alberta Jordan (the Brookville Garden murders). The Mississippi Supreme Court opinion reverses Willie’s denial of post-conviction relief, reverses his conviction and sentence, and remands the case to the Oktibbeha County Justice Court for a new trial.
Willie’s conviction was based almost entirely on the testimony of convicted murderer, Kevin Lucious, who waited until more than a year after the Brookville Garden murders before claiming that he had seen Willie entering the victims’ apartment. Lucious has since recanted his trial testimony in full, saying that he gave it when under pressure from law enforcement. Recantation by Lucious, and by Lucious’s former girlfriend, did not sway the court to overturn Willie’s conviction. We recall that Troy Davis was executed in Georgia in 2011, despite the recantation of trial testimony by seven witnesses.
It is therefore lucky in terms of Willie’s appeal (though very unlucky for him at the time of his trial) that the State failed to provide crucial police canvass notes for the trial. These notes showed that Lucious did not live where he had said he lived, nor, indeed, anywhere in the complex where the victims lived. So he could not have seen Willie entering the victims’ apartment: his testimony must have been false.
The Starkville police chief testified in 2011 that he copied the whole file, including the canvass notes, and gave it to the District Attorney (see October 2014 oral argument video, 1:10.25). Despite this, the court felt that:
“The record supports that neither the district attorney’s office nor the defense attorneys were aware of the evidence”.
The court’s decision to overturn Willie’s conviction hinged on whether Willie satisfied the four legal requirements which demonstrate a violation of due process rights (a Brady violation). Seven of the judges believed that he did, viz.:
- The government possessed evidence favourable to Willie.
- Willie did not possess this evidence and could not have obtained it for himself with any reasonable diligence.
- The prosecution team (investigative and prosecutorial personnel) suppressed the evidence.
- There is a reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial would have been different if the evidence had been disclosed to Willie.
The two dissenting judges speculated that Lucious may have been squatting in the apartment. As one blogger comments:
“So, apparently, the proposed standard of review is that if a justice on appeal can imagine a scenario that might have persuaded the jury to convict, then no Brady violation.”
Fortunately, this standard is not shared by the majority of the judges.
For Willie the jubilation at being granted a new trial must be mixed with anger and sadness: if the State had provided those canvass notes at the trial the outcome would likely have been different. We hope that he will soon be able to consign the past to the past, and instead focus on the new trial that now lies ahead of him.