At the trial where Willie Manning was convicted of murdering two students, Frank Parker testified that he had overheard Willie saying he “sold the gun on the street”. Thus Willie was linked to the murders, and specifically to the missing murder weapon.[i]
But Parker was far from credible as a witness. He said he had come to Mississippi to escape criminal charges in Texas, and claimed that when he was in Starkville he decided to turn himself in. He was placed in Oktibbeha County Jail, with Willie as a cellmate; this was where he maintained he heard Willie talking about the murders.[ii] He later stated that before he agreed to testify, the sheriff (Dolph Bryan) talked to him about the students’ murders and showed him photos of the victims at the crime scene.[iii]
At Willie’s trial Parker claimed that charges against him in Texas had been dropped, but this was not true: he was facing a sentence of two to ten years.[iv] Willie’s prosecutors knew or should have known this, but did not correct Parker’s claims.[v] When Parker eventually returned to Texas, and pled guilty to theft, he reaped the benefits of testifying against Willie: his trial judge accepted a plea bargain rewarding him for the testimony.[vi] Willie’s jury was unaware of this as a possible motivation for Parker.
Similarly, Willie’s jurors were not shown letters, written by Parker to Willie’s prosecutor and judge, indicating that Parker was also motivated by the hope of receiving reward money.[vii]
Parker’s uncle later declared his nephew to be thoroughly untrustworthy:
“I would not take [Frank’s] word for anything. I have no idea about whether the defendant in Mississippi is guilty or innocent, but I would not let anything that Frank said have any bearing at all on any case.”[viii]
Parker’s testimony is highly questionable evidence, as is the testimony of jailhouse snitches in many other cases. As Radley Balko notes:
“Most jailhouse snitches are lying…
…The very idea that people regularly confess to crimes that could put them in prison for decades, or possibly even get them executed, to someone they just met in a jail cell and have known for all of a few hours is and has always been preposterous. Not to mention the fact that these are people whose word prosecutors wouldn’t trust under just about any other circumstance.”
The indications are that the state used Parker in order to obtain false testimony inculpating Willie. It is one of many irregularities in this case. Willie deserves a new trial.