The Significance of Absent Witnesses

In the early hours of the December 11, 1992, two Mississippi State University students were murdered. Willie Manning said he was at the 2500 Club that night. As the prosecutor himself pointed out, if Willie was at that club, he “could not possibly have committed this crime. . . .”

Clearly it was of critical importance to Willie’s defense that witnesses should corroborate Willie’s alibi at his trial. Indeed, several people testified that they had seen Willie at the club: Gene Rice, King Hall, Landon Clayborne, Mario Hall and Keith Higgins all said they had seen Willie there.

The state agreed that Willie was at the 2500 Club early in the evening, but surmised that he left the club early and then made his way to the crime scene. Even this hypothesis is hard to reconcile with the facts;* but if Willie had produced credible witnesses to testify that he was at the club later, he would have dealt the state’s theory a powerful blow.

Such witnesses existed, but Willie’s defense failed to locate them. So it was only during post-conviction investigations that Sherron Armstead Mitchell, Doug Miller and Troylin Jones signed affidavits to confirm that they saw Willie at the 2500 Club late on the night of the murders. Troylin Jones saw him at the club at midnight or a little later; Doug Miller last saw him there after midnight, at around 12.15 or 12.20; and Sherron Armstead Mitchell remembered that Willie was still at the club when she left it at almost 1.00 a.m. Mitchell had good reason to remember the time, as she knew her husband would be mad at her for being out so late.

It was between approximately 12:50 and 1:00 a.m. when the two murdered students were last seen, leaving a fraternity house together. The prosecution claimed that when they left, they interrupted Willie stealing items from a car parked outside this house. At the very same time, however, Mitchell was leaving the 2500 Club, while Willie remained in the club.

If the defense had not been deficient in calling Mitchell (and Jones and Miller) to present this significant evidence to the jurors, it seems reasonable to suppose that Willie could have been found innocent.

Willie deserves a new trial.

* “The prosecution had no evidence that Manning had a car that night or that anyone had given him a ride to campus. Thus, according to the prosecution, after spending several hours at the club drinking, Manning walked to the other side of town on a chilly night, broke into a car, abducted two students who caught him, drove off with them in a two-seat car, shot them, drove her blood-streaked car to an apartment complex, and walked the ten or so miles home laden with stolen goods. All of this for a mere leather jacket, CD player with a cracked lid, a class ring that could easily be traced to the murder victim, and a handful of coins?”
Willie Jerome Manning v. State of Mississippi, No. 2001-0144-CV, Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, filed in the Circuit Court for Oktibbeha County. Filed October 8, 2001. Page 73 (Page 81 0f PDF). State of Mississippi Judiciary. Web. June 29, 2015. 
Information for this post was taken from:
Willie Jerome Manning v. State of Mississippi, No. 2001-0144-CV, Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, filed in the Circuit Court for Oktibbeha County. Filed October 8, 2001. Pages 70 – 75 (pages 78 – 83 of PDF). State of Mississippi Judiciary. Web. June 29, 2015.
and
Willie Jerome Manning v. State of Mississippi, Motion for Leave to File Successive Petition for Post-Conviction Relief including DNA Testing and other Forensic Analysis, filed March 22, 2013. Pages 24 – 26. Print.
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