Today is Willie Manning’s 49th birthday. He has spent 22½ years on death row.
When Willie was first questioned by law enforcement about the murder of two students he remained upbeat, confident that his innocence would be recognized and that he would be released. He had, after all, passed a lie detector test* and had been with friends in a busy club on the night of the murders.** And he knew the police had already questioned and released other suspects. As Willie told his girlfriend, Paula Hathorn,
“[A]ll this is game. All it is interrogation. See, he think he on the right track but like I told him, he gonna soon find out he barking up the wrong tree…*** They just, it’s just interrogation game and they went to Judy, they went to Eric, they went to Steve, and now they fucking with me. You know that’s all it’s about…” ****
However, the state was even then putting pressure on Hathorn to cooperate in building a case against Willie, by threatening to charge her as an accessory after the fact to murder, for which she could have been sentenced to 10 years in prison.†
This was but a prelude to the whole range of questionable methods and unsound evidence which the state used in order to secure not one, but two convictions against Willie. And four years ago Willie suffered the trauma of being very close to execution.
Despite all the challenges that Willie has had to face, he describes himself as lucky, because he has the support of family and friends, and because, unlike many in the world, he is not facing famine and conflict. Willie is an inspiring human being.
We wish Willie a very happy birthday.
*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 384 – 385 of PDF. State of Mississippi Judiciary. Web. June 29, 2015.
**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
*** 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 385 of PDF. State of Mississippi Judiciary. Web. June 29, 2015.