On the same day that Willie Manning was exonerated in his 1993 case (April 20, 2015) the FBI published a report relevant to his 1992 case. The report confirms the gist of Flawed Forensics, last year’s Al Jazeera program featuring Willie, that the scale of flawed hair testimony presented by FBI experts was shockingly widespread.
Peter Neufeld, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, sums up the FBI’s conclusions:
“These findings confirm that FBI microscopic hair analysts committed widespread, systematic error, grossly exaggerating the significance of their data under oath, with the consequence of unfairly bolstering the prosecutions’ case.”
The report cites mistakes in 33 of the 35 capital cases investigated so far. One of these was Willie’s 1992 case; the errors in hair testimony for this case were announced very publicly shortly before he was due to be executed in May 2013. The admission was shortly followed by an admission that FBI ballistic testimony in the case was also flawed. Hours before the execution was due, it was stayed by the Mississippi Supreme Court. The judges gave no reason for the stay. Later that year they gave Willie permission to pursue his request for DNA testing.
The Daily Beast quotes the view of Tucker Carrington, founding director of the Mississippi Innocence Project and law professor at the University of Mississippi:
“In my mind, the state had written Willie off. Who gives a fuck about this guy? He’s already condemned. We know he’s the type of person who’s capable of doing this. It’s him.”
The preliminary DNA testing for Willie’s 1992 case was due to have been completed last week; the results have not yet been announced. Fingerprint matching has not even begun. But Willie’s exoneration in his other case provides his lawyers with additional arguments. The Daily Beast article includes a statement by one of his lawyers, Robert Mink:
“Even if the DNA and fingerprint evidence is inconclusive, we’re not finished arguing about whether he’s entitled to a new trial. The fact that he’s essentially been exonerated from the other two murders should make everyone concerned about the reliability of convictions like this—especially when the convicted person is going to be killed at the behest of the state.”
Announcing that Willie is the 153rd person added to the Death Penalty Information Center’s (DPIC’s) Innocence List, Robert Dunham, the DPIC’s Executive Director, expressed his concern:
“It is always stunning when a man is exonerated from death row with evidence of his innocence, but Mr. Manning’s case presents the unimaginable possibility that an innocent man may have been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death in two different trials for two different offenses.”
To Willie this is not an ‘unimaginable possibility’: it is the nightmare that he has lived with for nearly two decades. Now that he has been exonerated in his 1993 case, it is our hope that his 1992 case will also soon be brought to a just conclusion.