Another year has passed: today it is exactly twenty-one years since Willie Manning first entered death row.
This year has been a significant one for Willie. In April charges for his 1993 case were dropped, effectively exonerating him in that case. And in June came the announcement that potentially significant DNA evidence for his 1992 case had been detected by a Texas lab. That evidence is still being tested.
After 21 years, Willie must also have been pleased to learn that the prosecutor in both his cases, Forrest Allgood, was defeated in Mississippi elections last week. Although Allgood’s departure is unlikely to affect the future management of Willie’s remaining case, it will nonetheless give Willie a much needed psychological boost.
In both Willie’s cases there are questions about whether Allgood behaved properly. The Jackson Free Press notes the statement that the key witness, Kevin Lucious, made when he recanted his trial testimony:
“Luscious said District Attorney Forrest Allgood… told Luscious that he would not charge him with capital murder if he cooperated.”
And in Willie’s ongoing 1992 case, Allgood built on the false testimony of the FBI hair expert, who wrongly stated that hair in the victim’s car was ‘of Negroid origin’ and was ‘African American’ hair. Allgood repeatedly referred to the hair fragments in his closing argument, linking it with aspects of the case which the jury had been led to associate with Willie:
[Out] of all the people that could have been a burglar of John Wise’s car, how many of them could leave hair fragments in the car, hair fragments that came from a member of the African-American race because that’s what they find when they vacuum the sweepings of the car, that’s what they find in both significantly the passenger’s seat and the driver’s seat, just like it would be if the man rode out there as a passenger and came back a driver…. How many people, ladies and gentlemen, who could leave those fragments, how many of those also left his home on the morning of December 9th…. How many people could have committed this crime, ladies and gentlemen, that could have left those fragments, that left their home carrying a gun and some gloves…. How many people could leave those hair fragments, how many people left their house that morning with the gun and the gloves…. How many people could leave those hair fragments, left the house with the gun and the gloves, was trying to sell a ring and a watch like Jon Steckler’s, and also had the jacket from John Wise’s car…. How many people could leave the fragments, left his house with gun and gloves….
Radley Balko describes Allgood as “[o]ne of America’s worst prosecutors”, and lists many other cases in which Allgood’s behaviour was reprehensible.
Willie will not be alone in celebrating Allgood’s departure.