The Circuit Court Abused its Discretion

Today, Saturday, June 12 is Willie Manning’s 53rd birthday: we wish him a happy birthday. We trust that recent developments in his case help him to spend the day peacefully: his arguments for further DNA testing are strong.

In April, Willie filed a brief for the Mississippi Supreme Court, appealing the decision of the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court to deny additional forensic testing of seven hair fragments vacuumed from Tiffany Miller’s car.*

The Bode Technology lab, where the previous tests were conducted, recommended transferring the fragments to the MitoTyping Technologies lab for additional testing, because the latter has much greater success than Bode at extracting mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from old, degraded samples. Willie explains that the transfer of the fragments to MitoTyping thus meets the legal requirement for “a reasonable likelihood of more probative results” [Miss Code Ann § 99-39-5 (1) (f)].

Willie also highlights the Circuit Court’s statement, “The vacuum sweeping could have come from any source from the time the car was manufactured until the time the samples were obtained”, and testing it is “irrelevant to the issue of guilt”. As Willie notes:
“If the Circuit Court is correct in opining that the hairs are irrelevant, then it was error to admit them and the expert’s testimony [into the trial], in which case there is an additional reason to grant Manning a new trial”.

As the hairs were admitted into Willie’s trial and were used against him, further mtDNA testing should be granted. As Willie concludes,
“[T]he Circuit Court clearly erred and abused its discretion in refusing to allow the additional testing of seven hairs by MitoTyping Technologies”.

We trust the Mississippi Supreme Court will agree. We wish Willie the strength and patience to await its decision.

*The State of Mississippi Judiciary website has been undergoing planned scheduled maintenance for several months, so Willie’s filing is not yet visible there. We will provide a link to it when this becomes available.

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February Hope

February has brought unusually severe winter storms to Mississippi, with snow, freezing temperatures and power failures. Conditions on death row at Mississippi State Penitentiary have been harsh: both power and heating have been off. After a couple of freezing cold days, the malfunctioning boiler has been mended; inmates are warm again, but still without power.

In these conditions it is harder than ever for Willie Manning to stay positive. His remaining case has been moving very slowly: in April Oktibbeha County Circuit Court Judge Lee Howard denied Willie the opportunity to send some of the hair samples from his case to a different lab that specializes in extracting DNA from small degraded samples. 

Fortunately, Willie’s attorneys are now preparing to appeal this decision to the Mississippi Supreme Court. The brief will probably be filed in the next few weeks.

We are optimistic that the Mississippi Supreme Court will uphold Willie’s request for further testing. In the cold of February, this appeal should give him hope. We trust it does.

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2020: an Eventful Year

2020 has been an eventful year for Willie Manning. His case suffered a setback in April, when Judge Lee Howard denied permission for hair fragments from Tiffany Miller’s car to undergo further DNA testing.

Willie now has more waiting ahead of him while the judge’s ruling is appealed.

On the other hand, Willie was very much encouraged by rulings in favour of two other long term Mississippi death row inmates, both also African Americans. Eddie Lee Howard had his capital murder conviction and death sentence overturned in August; and Curtis Flowers was exonerated in September.

Beyond these legal developments were various other events that impinged on Willie’s life: appalling conditions and deaths at his prison; the highs and lows of the Black Lives Matter movement; and anxiety about Covid-19.

As 2020 ends, we wish Willie a peaceful Christmas and New Year.

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2020 US Election

The death penalty is not mentioned in the President Trump’s vague bullet points that replace the usual platform for the Republican Party in an election year. However, the restoration of federal executions this year confirms the party’s support for capital punishment.

The lethal injections that have so far killed seven federal inmates use secretly acquired drugs, which are not approved for use in executions. Victims’ families have been sidelined, leading sometimes to their retraumatization; defense teams have been kept insufficiently informed; a Native American prohibition against the death penalty was ignored; and the preparation for a federal execution has led to a prison outbreak of Covid-19.

On the other hand, the Democratic Party is clear in its abolitionist stance:  “Democrats continue to support abolishing the death penalty.” This position was originally adopted in 2016:
“We will abolish the death penalty, which has proven to be a cruel and unusual form of punishment. It has no place in the United States of America. The application of the death penalty is arbitrary and unjust. The cost to taxpayers far exceeds those of life imprisonment. It does not deter crime. And, exonerations show a dangerous lack of reliability for what is an irreversible punishment.”

If you oppose the death penalty, as Willie Manning has every reason to, it is clear which way you should vote.*

*The Libertarian Party and Green Party also oppose the death penalty; the Republican Party and Constitution Party support it.


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Death Row Highs and Lows

Jacob Blake, an African American man, was shot in the back and seriously injured by police in Wisconsin in front of three of his young sons last month. Sadly, news like this is not infrequent, and is always depressing for Willie Manning. Willie is in full agreement with Blake’s lawyer, Ben Crump, who declares,
“There are two justice systems in America – one for black Americans and one for white Americans, and we’re fighting for equal justice for all Americans… We have to have our leaders lead on this.”

From his own cases, Willie has good reason to believe that the two justice systems include the death penalty that has overshadowed his own life.

Fortunately, to help offset the depressing news from Wisconsin, there has been encouraging news from Mississippi’s own death row: Willie’s fellow inmate, Eddie Lee Howard, has been granted a new trial (bite mark evidence that was central in convicting him has since been discredited).

Howard entered death row shortly before Willie, and was prosecuted by the same District Attorney as Willie, the notorious Forrest Allgood. As Allgood was voted out of office in 2015, it will be his reformist successor, Scott Colom, who must now decide whether to drop the charges against Howard, given the new evidence and court findings, or whether to seek a new trial. 

Tucker Carrington of the Mississippi Innocence Project echoes Willie’s feelings as the decision is awaited:
“It’s now time to bring this case to an end, and to close another door on a disastrous era of injustice in this state”. 

We agree.

Posted in African American, capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, Death Row, Eddie Lee Howard, Mississippi, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Excessive and Inhuman

Willie Manning has been on death row for an astonishing 25 years. He’s not alone in suffering such a long period of incarceration: of the 41 inmates on Mississippi’s death row, 18 have been imprisoned for 20 years or more; and of those, 13, including Willie himself, have been there for over a quarter of a century.

Recent rulings by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) have concluded that such protracted periods of incarceration on death row violate the American Declaration of Human Rights.

The commission has pronounced that spending 20 years on death row, under the continuing threat of execution, is “excessive and inhuman”, and greatly exceeds the length of time that international and domestic courts have characterized as cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. 

The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) has found that in the USA as a whole, more than half of death row prisoners (at least 1,300 inmates) have been incarcerated for 20 years or longer.  Such extensive breaches of human rights are shocking.

Willie’s incarceration has been even more stressful than for most, because for much of the time he was fighting the threat of execution in two cases.

We commend DPIC for shining a light onto this shameful aspect of capital punishment in the USA. It adds to the many reasons for opposing the death penalty. We should not kill people to show that killing people is wrong. The death penalty should end.

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Happy 52nd Birthday!

Today, Friday June 12, 2020, is Willie Manning’s 52nd birthday. We wish him a happy birthday.

Willie has been depressed by the video footage showing African American George Floyd being killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis, while other white policemen looked on.

But the wave of protest that followed the killing has cheered Willie. He feels proud of young people of all skin colors who have come together all over the USA, and globally, to protest racial injustice.

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The Puzzle of the Hair Fragments

At Willie Manning’s trial, an FBI hair expert testified about hair fragments vacuumed from Tiffany Miller’s car. The expert stated that the hair was African American (an assertion that the FBI and DOJ discredited in 2013).

With no physical evidence linking Willie to the crime, the flawed hair testimony assumed great significance at his trial. As Willie’s Reply to State’s Opposition* explained in May 2013,
“The State clearly relied on the forensic hair analyst’s testimony to link Willie Manning to the crime scene and forensic testimony is known to have an impact on jurors.”

Judge Lee Howard was the trial judge who accepted the prosecution’s hair testimony into the trial.

The same judge has recently been asked to consider the hair fragments again, following Willie’s request that they be transferred from Bode Technology to another facility, MitoTyping Technologies, for further DNA analysis. This time Judge Howard has decided that the hair samples are not relevant to Willie’s case. He states that they “could have come from any source from the time the car was manufactured until the time the samples were obtained”.

We are thus left with a puzzle. Why did testimony about this hair – now defined by the trial judge as “irrelevant to the issue of guilt” – appear in the trial? What made the hair relevant to the case in 1994, but irrelevant in 2020?

Willie has many issues to raise about his case; the puzzle of the hair fragments is but one of many elements that prompt questions and cause concern. Willie’s quest for answers has been long and grueling. We trust that he is edging ever closer to receiving justice.

* Willie Manning v. State of Mississippi, Reply to State’s Opposition, 2013-DR-00491-SCT, Supreme Court of Mississippi. May 6, 2013. Page 4.

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COVID-19

Staying inside a tiny prison cell all day, every day, day after day is not easy. Willie Manning likes taking advantage of the little opportunity he gets to go outside for restricted exercise, where he may also find solace in seeing a few blades of grass and looking up at the clouds.

But these are not normal times. As in other parts of the world, Mississippi is suffering from the new corona virus known as COVID-19.

Citizens have been asked to follow new rules to slow the spread of the virus: for instance, they should stay at home as much as possible; stay at least 6 feet away from others; and wash their hands thoroughly and frequently. In the Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman), where Willie is incarcerated, an inmate who died earlier this month was found to have had COVID-19. He had not been on death row. Sadly, the number of cases in the prison is likely to rise sharply.

The Mississippi Department of Corrections states that it has introduced additional measures to protect prisoners and staff in all prisons. But rapper Yo Gotti reminds us that conditions at Parchman have long been very poor:
“These inmates have been subjected to inhumane health and safety risks, and now have to deal with the uncertainty and potential devastation of the coronavirus, too.”

Willie and the other death row inmates have been given soap to allow them to keep their hands free of COVID-19. And, reluctantly, Willie has decided that it is safer at the moment to give up his exercise outside, to reduce the risk of contamination from others.

Our thoughts are with Willie more than ever at this difficult time.

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/parchman-prison-lawyers-demand-coronavirus-testing-inmates-mississippi-state-penitentiary-2020-03-16/?fbclid=IwAR2m4lBV7KP4XfKyUvIyxHkElziEIFVq-Ev1DOKpB4V59IOfOl-swTD71zU

Posted in corona virus, COVID-19,, Mississippi, Mississippi State Penitentiary, Parchman, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Suffering of Parchman’s Death Row

18 inmates have died in Mississippi prisons since December 29, some as a result of violence. 10 of the deaths were at the state penitentiary at Parchman, where Willie Manning is incarcerated. State law requires death row to remain at Parchman.

Death row prisoners like Willie were not involved in any violence, but nonetheless their conditions worsened as the Mississippi Department of Corrections struggled to regain control during the disorder: death row was locked down along with the rest of the prison.

According to death row attorneys, meals were not delivered at mealtimes, and when food was eventually brought it was “cold and sparse: a single bologna sandwich, a half foam plastic cup of Cheerios and milk”. Medication and water bottles were not being delivered. Showering was not allowed, and there were problems with the toilets after a storm shut off electricity.  

Death row is in Unit 29. Following a visit to Parchman, incoming Governor Tate Reed ordered parts of this unit to close; but the governor suggested that the condition of death row is acceptable and should remain in use.

However, last year the then Mississippi Department of Corrections commissioner, Pelicia Hall, appeared to contradict this when she wrote to lawmakers:
“[Unit 29], originally constructed in 1980 and renovated in 1996, has become unsafe for staff and inmates due to age and general deterioration.”

With Governor Reed describing himself as a “budget hawk”, it seems unlikely that conditions for death row will improve. We wish Willie the strength to survive.

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