Two Unqualifed Attorneys

In Willie Manning’s 1992 case, the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court had great difficulty performing its duty to appoint a post-conviction attorney who was qualified for capital cases. The court ignored Willie’s own choice of attorney, who was suitably qualified. Instead it appointed first one, and then, incredibly, a second attorney who lacked the requisite qualifications.

As a result of the delays, Willie missed a crucial filing deadline; he was unfairly blamed for this error.* Appallingly, this led to an execution date being scheduled for him.

It is hard to avoid Tucker Carrington’s conclusion:
“In my mind, the state had written Willie off. ‘Who gives a f*** about this guy?”

A report published last month, The Right to Counsel in Mississippi, reveals that there are many state wide problems in indigent defense lawyering . It notes that “Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in the nation” … “against a backdrop of higher crime than that seen nationally.” The authors find that counties and municipalities thus struggle to fund even the minimum constitutional requirements for effective indigent defense.

The report concludes by recommending legislation to help the state improve defense services for those of limited means.

We hope that the report’s recommendations are implemented. Willie’s suffering should not be repeated.

* Willie Jerome Manning Petitioner-Appellant & Cross-Appellee v. Christopher Epps, Commisioner, Mississippi Department of Corrections, and Jim Hood, Attorney General, Respondents-Appellees & Cross-Appellants. 10-70008. Response to Cross-Appeal and Reply Brief of Petitioner-Appellant filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Filed December 15, 2010. Pages 6 – 11 (pages 15 – 20 of pdf).


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The Real Murderers may have Killed Again

Willie Manning has always claimed innocence in both his cases, and has already been exonerated in one case. Referring to Willie’s remaining case, former policeman Vincent Hill explains that the murders of two students indicate not robbery, but a crime of passion. He adds,
(At 50.10) “Unfortunately, I’ve said it, and I’ll say it again – there’s someone out there that has gotten away with this murder, because just looking at the wounds, especially to Tiffany, they were personal. They were personal, they were personal, you know. That does not happen in a robbery. It just doesn’t happen.’

Moreover, it is also possible that the real perpetrator has killed again, perhaps repeatedly, at liberty to murder because the wrong person is confined. It is equally possible that in Willie’s second case the real murderer has killed again.

Frank Baumgartner and his wife, Jennifer Thompson, are trying to raise public awareness that:
“[P]reventing wrongful convictions is not just a way of stopping individual injustices: it’s a way of fighting crime.”

Baumgartner estimates that of the approximately 40,000 wrongful convictions every year in the USA, perhaps a quarter involves the actual perpetrator remaining at large. Some must be murderers, who may kill again.

We wish Baumgartner and Thompson success with their campaign. And we hope the public demands that Willie should have a new trial.


Posted in capital punishment, crime, criminal justice, death penalty, fighting crime, Mississippi, police, USA, Willie Manning, wrongful convictions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No History of Violence

Willie Manning’s history supports his claim that he has never committed murder. He had previous convictions, but never for violence. As one of his attorneys confirmed,
“He didn’t have any violent convictions. His criminal history was for things like theft.”

Willie also struck his friends as noticeably peaceful. One of them, Mary Prater, described Willie (sometimes known as Jerome) in an affidavit in 2001:
“Jerome was not someone who was considered violent or 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.”*

Another friend of the family, David Skato, described Willie as a nice guy who “wouldn’t bust a grape” and “would give you the shirt off his back”.**

This does not sound like the description of a murderer; on the contrary, it is consistent with Willie’s claim of innocence. We hope he is soon given the chance to demonstrate his innocence in his remaining case. He deserves to be granted a new trial.

*See Willie Jerome Manning’s Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, filed in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court on October 8 2001, Exhibit 38 (pages 373 – 374 of pdf). 
**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 his childhood starts at 5.50.
Posted in criminal justice, death penalty, Fly Manning, Mississippi, USA, Willie Jerome Manning, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“This System’s all a Lie”

Steven Hayne was the medical examiner at Willie Manning’s trial and at many others in Mississippi; he was unqualified and scandalously incompetent (see here and here). 

A book just published, “The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South”, recounts shocking miscarriages of justice facilitated by Hayne and his partner, forensic dentist Michael West, in the courts of Mississippi.

The authors, Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington, believe that a flawed system has allowed this abuse to occur. Carrington feels that the “structural racism and classism” in the US criminal justice system are compounded by poor resourcing; and Balko notes that there have been forensic scandals throughout the USA, which he attributes to “bad incentives and an inattentive, overfed system.”

But the authors also agree that the particularly shameful racism of Mississippi played a part in allowing Hayne and West to operate with impunity. As Balko says,
“[The criminal justice system in Mississippi] was designed during the Jim Crow era for a very specific purpose, which was to aid law enforcement in whatever law enforcement needed to do during the Civil Rights [Movement]. That meant covering up the killings of Civil Rights activists, before that [it was] covering up lynching. [The case is] about how that legacy still kind of remains with us today. I think it’s a system that serves people in power. You can’t talk about a system that serves [the] powerful at the extent of the powerless without talking about race.”

One reviewer concludes:
“The two authors… make the case beyond a reasonable doubt that the justice system in places like Mississippi has been rigged for decades.”

Willie Manning agrees. In his poem, “When Death Row Speaks”, he asks:

“How many times have I shed tears …
How many people have to die …
Before this nation starts to realize
That this system’s all a lie?”

We hope that this book will help to expose the lie.


Posted in African American, capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, Fly Manning, Injustice, miscarriages of justice, Mississippi, The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South, USA, Willie Jerome Manning, Willie Manning, wrongful convictions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Puzzle of Jordan’s Strange Testimony

Earl Jordan, was a key witness at Willie Manning’ Steckler-Miller trial: he told the court that he heard Willie confessing that both he and Jessie ‘One Wing’ Lawrence had committed the murders. Jordan recanted his trial testimony a few years ago, but did not formalize his recantation. As one of Willie’s attorneys explains,
“Jordan never signed an affidavit, so Jordan’s statement has very limited usefulness.”

Jordan’s trial statements, however, were awash with anomalies and falsehoods; this fact supports his recantation. His preposterous trial testimony and his informal recantation are reminiscent of the false testimony and subsequent recantation of Kevin Lucious in Willie’s disposed Jimmerson-Jordan case. In that case Lucious claimed that police Captain Lindley and Sheriff Bryan had provided a statement implicating Willie, and that DA Forrest Allgood pressured him to sign it.*

We have not heard from Jordan how he came to testify against Willie. But the collapse of the Jimmerson-Jordan case may provide a clue. As Willie’s attorneys explain:
“A finding by the circuit court that Manning’s conviction in the [Jimmerson-Jordan] case was procured on the basis of false testimony [is] also relevant to the claims in this case (the college students), because it show[s] a pattern of reliance on testimony procured unfairly.”

Another clue could be the combination of favors and intimidation used by Sheriff Bryan to procure testimony from a second key witness in the Steckler-Miller case, Paula Hathorn.

We hope that one day a solution will be found to the puzzle of Jordan’s strange testimony.

* State of Mississippi v. Willie Jerome Manning, Cause Number 13-086-CRH. Order of Nolle Prosequi. Circuit Court of Oktibbeha County, Mississippi. April 2015.
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DNA Testing: Update

A letter filed on Thursday by Rob Mink, one of Willie Manning’s attorneys, states that 18 hair fragments contained in exhibits from Willie’s Steckler-Miller case are to be tested. The testing is predicted to take about fourteen weeks.

The letter reveals that initially the testing lab provided a cost estimate of an eye-watering $85,680 for testing 34 hair fragments; Willie’s counsel settled for testing only about half that number (18 fragments, at a cost of $45,200).

DNA test results should always be treated as only one part of the evidencebut fortunately, an overwhelming amount of evidence already exists that is favorable to Willie.

We are pleased that the hair fragments will be tested at last.

Posted in African American, capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, DNA testing, Jon Steckler, Mississippi, Tiffany Miller, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

US Death Penalty: Systemic Problems

It is not surprising that public opinion in the USA is increasingly recoiling from the death penalty: the annual Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) report reveals continuing “systemic problems” in its implementation:

“As use of the death penalty dwindles, one might expect that the few cases that result in death sentences and the even fewer that result in executions would truly be the most egregious crimes and the most culpable offenders. But events [in 2017] show once again that this is not the case.
“Instead, states appear to be clinging to the death penalty by executing any prisoner unlucky enough to have reached the end of the appeals process without competent representation or rigorous judicial review, and by doing so by any means at their disposal.”

Of the 23 people executed nationwide in 2017, 90% presented significant evidence of mental illness, intellectual disability, brain damage, severe trauma, and/or innocence. Frequently there were substantial concerns that those executed had received inadequate representation and insufficient judicial review. And those executed were subjected to potentially torturous deaths.

Willie Manning will be pleased that the public is turning against the death penalty; however, he will also be deeply saddened by the abuse of power that promotes the arbitrary state killing of some of the most vulnerable in society.

We hope that growing public revulsion will soon kill off the US death penalty for good. It is time for the USA to join the vast majority of industrialized countries that condemn capital punishment. It is time for this scandal to end.

Posted in capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, DPIC, executions, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Disproportionate Harm

Those wrongly convicted of murder suffer great harm. They may spend years in prison under threat of execution; they may even lose their lives. Far from being perpetrators, they are additional victims of the perpetrators.

A report published last yearbased on exonerations listed in the National Registry of Exonerations, focuses on the racial disparity which leads African Americans to suffer such harm disproportionately. Shockingly, it finds that black Americans are “about 50% more likely to be innocent of the murder than other convicted murderers.”

Police misconduct helps to drive the discrimination: witness tampering by police occurred nearly twice as often in cases with black defendants as it did in those with white defendants. (Prosecutor misconduct, on the other hand, is aimed at white as much as black defendants).

Unconscious racial bias probably also plays a part:
“Police and prosecutors may habitually assume that any black murder suspect they deal with is a killer.”
Such routine, institutional racism is “more common than intentional racism, and probably harder to detect and correct.”

And African Americans imprisoned for murder are more likely to be innocent if they were convicted of killing white victims (as Willie Manning was in his remaining case). As the report notes,
“[I]t is no news that inter-racial violence by African Americans is punished more harshly than intra-racial violence. It would not be surprising to learn that it is also pursued with greater ferocity, and less accuracy.”

The discrimination extends to greater delays before exoneration for African Americans. The report speculates that authorities may resist exoneration more forcefully in cases where there was official misconduct, which is more common when the exoneree is black.

The report’s findings help to explain why Willie Manning was convicted in two unrelated cases of murder despite huge anomalies in both; it also helps to account for the struggles he has undergone to overturn his convictions.

We hope that 2018 will finally bring Willie good news about his case. And we wish him a happy and peaceful New Year.

Posted in African American, capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, exonerations, Mississippi, USA, Willie Manning, wrongful convictions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Validation of Lies*

At Willie Manning’s Steckler-Miller trial, Earl Jordan was the only witness who testified that Willie had confessed to committing the murders. But there were huge problems with Jordan’s credibility. Willie’s “confession”, as recounted by Jordan, involved the highly improbable scenario that four grown people had been crammed into a two-person car. † Moreover, before Willie became a police suspect, Jordan had willingly implicated the two men who were then prime suspects, Johnny Lowery and Anthony Reed. Jordan did not describe Willie’s “confession” until just a week before Willie’s trial. And Jordan’s motivation was also known: he was hoping for assistance with charges brought against him for looting.

Trying to recover his witness’s integrity, the prosecutor established that Jordan had volunteered to take a polygraph (lie detector) test to confirm the validity of his testimony against Willie; the defense was barred from cross-examining Jordan about this. By deliberately raising Jordan’s willingness to subject himself to a polygraph, the prosecutor clearly hoped to authenticate his testimony. (The Mississippi Supreme Court later recognized the prejudice that such a calculated tactic could produce against the accused: in a later case the court ruled against it.)

Moreover, the jury did not hear that Jordan had previously taken a polygraph test to validate his earlier statement against Reed, and had “cleared the test very well.” If the jurors had heard this they may have concluded that Jordan told lies so easily that polygraphs did not actually prove anything.

The prosecutor’s extremely questionable intervention may well have prevented the jury from dismissing Jordan’s dubious testimony outright.

Regrettably, Willie’s trail was riddled with similar examples of unfairness. It is high time for his claim of innocence to be recognized. It is high time for him to be granted a new trial.

*Information for this post is taken from Willie Jerome Manning v. State of Mississippi. 2001-0144-CV. Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, filed in the Circuit Court for Oktibbeha County State of Mississippi. October 8, 2001. State of Mississippi Judiciary. Pages 18 – 28 (pages 26 – 36 of pdf).Web. June 29, 2015.
†It later emerged that one of those four, Jessie Lawrence (the man named by Jordan as Willie’s accomplice), was in reality in prison in Alabama at the time of the murders.
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Shifting Opinions

November 10, 2017 was the day when Willie Manning completed 23 years on death row.

There have been many changes since Willie first entered the row; one that should gladden him is the big decline in American public support for the death penalty. Gallup polls indicate that from an all-time high of 80% support in 1994, the level of approval has been declining, and was only 55% last month.

Using different questions, a Pew Research Center poll last year determined that even fewer of the US public –49% – support the death penalty.

Gallup’s report on last month’s poll concludes with “Implications”. And of those, the following is particularly relevant to Mississippi:
Thirty-one states, primarily in Republican-leaning regions, allow the death penalty. The likelihood of many of those states changing their laws hinges on whether rank-and-file Republican support for capital punishment remains high or declines in the future.”

We can only hope that rank-and-file Republican voters in Mississippi will gain in understanding about the unfairness, brutality and excessive cost of the death penalty, and demand an end to it. For Willie and for us, that will be a day to celebrate!



Posted in capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, executions, Gallup polls, public opinion, Willie Jerome Manning, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment