Earlier this month we reported the good news from the Mississippi elections – the ousting of District Attorney Forrest Allgood, who prosecuted both of Willie Manning’s cases. The bad news is that the Attorney General, Jim Hood, remains.
The Attorney General’s office is keen to uphold Willie’s remaining death sentences: Hood vociferously opposed Willie’s request for DNA testing and fingerprint comparison. He has also energetically attempted to shroud the procurement of execution drugs in secrecy, in order to maintain executions. The Attorney General’s enthusiasm for the death penalty, alongside his reputation for shady dealings (see here and here) inspires little confidence.
In 2001, as a district attorney, Hood secured a death sentence for Marlon Howell in a deeply troubling manner: He struck the only two black jurors, misrepresented Howell as a gang leader, and impressed the conservative, all-white jury with his oratory; the defense was poorly funded and unable to counteract the state’s case. A new witness later challenged the conviction, saying,
“I tried to tell the district attorney what I really knew, but he kept trying to tell me what he wanted me to say”.
All key witnesses who had testified against Howell recanted crucial parts of what they had told the jury. Hood, by then AG, sent his agents to visit those key witnesses: as a result all reversed their recantations. He also personally intimidated the new witness, rendering her unable to testify coherently. Howell remains on death row.
As Attorney General, Hood adopts “an almost fanatical pursuit of death-penalty cases”. For instance, his office opposed Michelle Byrom’s request for a hearing to examine new evidence that strongly suggested her innocence, and instead asked for her immediate execution. Byrom eventually walked free, following a plea deal.
And while Hood has recently acknowledged flaws in the bite mark evidence given by forensic dentist Dr Michael West, his office continues to defend convictions won with West’s testimony, including the death penalty conviction of Eddie Lee Howard.
Jim Hood is a formidable opponent. Willie continues to need our support.