“Willie wouldn’t bust a grape.”

Today Willie Jerome Manning is 48. This is his 23rd birthday on death row.

When Willie was a child there was little money to celebrate birthdays. A childhood friend of his family, David Skato, recalls the ‘poverty stricken’ community where they were growing up, and where everyone was just trying to survive. He describes Willie as a nice guy who ‘wouldn’t bust a grape’ and ‘would give you the shirt off his back’.*

Skato was not alone in finding the young Willie likeable. For instance, in an affidavit made in 2001, Mary Prater stated she would have acted as a character witness for Willie (sometimes known as Jerome) at his trial:
“Jerome was not someone who was considered violent or who got into fights. I remember one time when Jerome was about 15 years old, we were all at the skating rink, and someone wanted to fight Jerome. Jerome, however, just walked away. That was basically how he was…
I like Jerome a great deal and would have been happy to have spoke to his lawyers at the time of his trial. His lawyers, however, did not talk to me about any aspect of his upbringing or character.”**

These descriptions suggest that Willie was a warm, caring and self-disciplined youngster, despite the disadvantages that he faced. He continues to care about others: his most treasured birthday gifts are vouchers that improve the lives of people living in poverty around the world.

Willie deserves happiness in the days, months and years ahead. We hope he finds moments of happiness today. We wish him a happy birthday.

We wish Willie Manning a happy 48th birthday today, June 12 2016.

*On the day before Willie’s scheduled execution in May 2013, Blog Talk Radio’s “The Other Side of Justice” featured a program about Willie, Dead Man Walking. The Willie Manning Case. In it Vincent Hill, a private investigator and ex-policeman, interviewed Willie’s childhood friend, David Skato, about the prosecution’s version of what happened when the two students were murdered. The interview does not start properly until 4 minutes into the recording. The passage about Willie as a young person starts at 5.50.
**See Willie Jerome Manning’s Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, filed in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court on October 8 2001, Exhibit 38.
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