A Real Exoneration

Well done, Columbus Dispatch, for turning out a well-balanced article by Carl Smith about Willie Manning last month! Smith summarized the information in the legal documents that led to Willie’s exoneration in his 1993 case, and provided links so readers could look at the documents for themselves. He attempted to interview both the prosecutor and the defense, although he succeeded only with the prosecutor. This was a far cry from the article denouncing Willie which appeared in the same newspaper nearly two years before, an article which we have criticized on this website.

Our criticism this time is not with the newspaper, but with the prosecutor, district attorney Forrest Allgood. Smith quotes him as saying:

“It’s not a matter of if (Manning) did it or didn’t do it, it’s a matter of how we can’t go forward. [The key witness, Lucious] was functionally the way we proved our case. There was corroborating evidence, but there were no other witnesses that heard Manning admit (the crime) or go into the apartment.”

D.A. Allgood’s words imply that Willie was only ‘functionally’ exonerated, as if in reality he was guilty. The prosecutor’s implication carries weight because it is made by an establishment figure lined up against a nobody: it is therefore dangerous.

Allgood speaks vaguely of ‘corroborating evidence’ without saying what it is. Presumably he was referring to the witnesses who, a year after the crime, testified that they had seen Willie in the victims’ apartment complex on the day of the murders. But their testimony is highly unlikely to have been accurate. Research shows that after 11 months the rate of accurate eyewitness identification decreases to only 11%, which is no better than would have occurred by chance.* Moreover, Willie’s face would have been familiar because of media coverage of his other case; witnesses could well have been influenced by this, consciously or subconsciously. Willie himself is probably rather more likely to have recalled accurately whether he went to the complex then: he has always denied having done so.

In addition, one witness, Herbert Ashford, undermined his own credibility by making statements that were contradictory. And Lucious’s statement about the police and prosecutor misconduct involved in procuring his own (now recanted) testimony throws even more doubt on the highly dubious witness statements.

What prosecutor Allgood failed to mention in his statement last month was that a bloody shoeprint found next to one of the bodies was made by a shoe that was much smaller than the shoes worn by Willie. The state did not divulge this information at the time of the trial. If the prosecutor had proceeded with a new trial, he would have faced a defense that was able to present this potentially exculpatory evidence to the jury.

It is no wonder that the prosecutor opted for exoneration rather than a new trial. Far from being unable to proceed because of ‘functional’ difficulties, he knew that the game was up. Willie’s exoneration is fully deserved.

*False Justice: Eight Myths that Convict the Innocent’, Jim Petro and Nancy Petro, 2010, page 158

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