“Jailhouse snitch” testimony is notoriously unreliable because the incarcerated witnesses are strongly motivated to say what the prosecution wants, usually because they get substantial reductions in their own sentences in return.”
National Registry of Exonerations, May 13, 2015
Given this unreliability, it is no surprise that jailhouse informants feature in nearly a quarter of US death penalty cases where the convicted person has ultimately been exonerated. And we should be very concerned when existing death penalty cases have depended heavily on jailhouse witnesses to secure a conviction.
One such case is Willie Manning’s remaining one, where two unreliable jailhouse snitches, Earl Jordan and Frank Parker, were used by the state to make a case against him. Jordan recanted his trial testimony informally a few years ago; unfortunately he has not signed an affidavit confirming this.
Another worrying case is that of Curtis Flowers, an African American like Willie, and incarcerated alongside him on Mississippi’s death row. Two jailhouse snitches in Curtis’s case have recanted formally, and a third recently told a reporter during a podcast that he, too, lied. Other revelations emerged during the In the Dark podcast that increase the doubts about Curtis’s conviction.
Mississippi courts should allow Curtis’s appeals, and recognize the part played by flawed snitch testimony in landing him on death row. In Willie’s case, too, the courts should accept that the use of jailhouse witnesses destroyed any hope of a fair trial.
We trust Mississippi will listen.