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.

Posted in African American, criminal justice, Mississippi, police misconduct, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Posted in DNA testing, forensic hair testimony, hair testimony, Mississippi, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Posted in African American, Death Row, Mississippi, prison conditions, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Shocking Deaths

There has been shock and horror in Mississippi and beyond at the deaths of five Mississippi prison inmates in less than a week. Three of the deaths were at the state penitentiary at Parchman, the prison where Willie Manning is held. The three young men who died were:
January 1: Walter Gates, 25, who died in a riot
January 2: Roosevelt Holliman, 32, stabbed in a gang-related riot
January 3: Denorris Howell, 36, killed during a fight with his cellmate
Other men were injured.

Death row, where Willie Manning is imprisoned, has not been directly affected by the violence; but inmates have been on lockdown and must be aware of the tension, and of the additional patrols in place.

Despite continuing safety and health problems at Parchman, its funding has been reduced. And at the end of 2019 the number of correctional officers employed by the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) was fewer than half of those employed five years earlier.

Prisoner advocates, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, have asked the federal government to investigate Mississippi’s prison system regarding possible civil rights violations. They assert:
“Mississippi has acknowledged the danger presented by severe understaffing and horrific conditions, but has repeatedly failed to take appropriate action.”

The “absolutely inhumane and unconstitutional” conditions have also drawn the attention of the rapper Jay-Z and hip-hop artist Yo Gotti: they have threatened to sue Mississippi unless conditions are improved. Their letter to Governor, Phil Bryant, and the MDOC Commisioner, Pelicia Hall, describes inmates who “are forced to live in squalor, with rats that crawl over them as they sleep on the floor, having been denied even a mattress for a cot.”

A lawyer for Jay-Z and Yo Gotti’s company commented:
“I just think it’s troubling where you have people, predominantly African American, who are locked inside cages where they don’t have a voice to be heard and are essentially the forgotten. It strikes us that there has to be a spotlight on this, otherwise we might not even be scratching the surface of the horror going on inside these prisons.”

Let us hope that legal action will at last secure proper funding to end the disgraceful neglect of Mississippi’s prisoners.

Posted in Mississippi, Mississippi State Penitentiary Parchman, prison conditions, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Grounds for Optimism

2019 is drawing to a close on an optimistic note! Willie Manning’s fellow death row inmate, Curtis Flowers, has finally been granted freedom (on bail) after being subjected to six trials during nearly two decades. The improper prosecutor strikes for black jurors in Flowers’  case were highlighted by the US Supreme Court:
“Equal justice under law requires a criminal trial free of racial discrimination in the jury selection process.”
We hope courts sustain this view when reviewing Willie’s remaining case.

We also now know that 2019 has seen progress on the DNA testing of hairs from Willie’s case. It seems that two batches of hair evidence have been tested this year: a batch described as “additional hairs” were tested in the spring; and “two hair fragments” were due to be tested between June and October.

The results of this testing are yet to be disclosed, but it is reassuring to know that Willie’s case is no longer at a standstill.

We trust that Willie sees these events as grounds for optimism for his case. And we wish him and his family a peaceful holiday season.

Posted in capital punishment, criminal justice, Curtis Flowers, death penalty, Mississippi, racism, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Twenty-Five Years on Death Row

Today, November 10, 2019, marks 25 years since Willie Manning first entered death row. A jury had found him guilty of murdering Tiffany Miller and Jon Steckler, despite no physical evidence linking him to the murders.

Two years later Willie was found guilty of a second double murder in a case brought by the same prosecutor, Forrest Allgood. This case collapsed in 2015 when the crucial state witness recanted; the Mississippi Supreme Court found that the prosecution had suppressed evidence favorable to Willie.

Willie’s original case keeps him on death row more than 6 years after the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed to allow DNA testing of biological evidence from the murder scene and analysis of fingerprints found in the car belonging to one of the victims. It is unclear why this testing is taking so long.

Please keep Willie Manning in your thoughts on the sad anniversary of his arrival on death row 25 years ago.

Posted in criminal justice, death penalty, Death Row, DNA testing, Mississippi, USA, Willie Manning, wrongful convictions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Racially Charged Injustice

Like Willie Manning, Rodney Reed is on death row in the south of the USA, with a case that is racially charged: Reed, who is black, was found guilty by an all-white jury of murdering a white woman in Texas in 1996.

As in Willie’s case, forensic testimony given at Reed’s trial was inaccurate. As in Willie’s case, Reed’s case is full of further anomalies; moreover, there is credible evidence that the murder was actually committed by the victim’s fiancé, a white police officer with a history of sexual assault, dishonesty and violence.

Just as Willie was scheduled for execution in 2013 with DNA from his case untested, so Reed now faces execution on November 20 with his request for DNA testing refused by the courts.

Attorneys for Reed have asked Texas Governor Greg Abbott for a 30-day reprieve from execution, citing new evidence and “grave doubt concerning his guilt.”

We urge you to support Rodney Reed by signing the Innocence Project’s petition and the Change.org petition.

Many thanks!

Update Great news! Following a huge campaign on behalf of Rodney Reed, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has issued an indefinite stay of execution for Reed, and has remanded his case to the trial court for ‘further development’ of three of his four claims.

Following the decision, Reed’s brother, Rodrick Reed, spoke out against the US death penalty’s systemic injustice:

“There’s … other Rodney Reeds out there that’s going through similar situations. We have to, as a people, stand up and say enough is enough.”

We agree.

Posted in capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, racism, Rodney Reed, Texas, USA, Willie Manning, wrongful convictions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Trail of Hidden Victims

A former commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections has spoken out against the terrible impact of capital punishment on prison staff. Allen L. Ault was responding to this summer’s announcement that the federal death penalty will be resumed after a gap of 16 years.

He is clear that the 5 federal executions scheduled will leave behind “a fresh trail of victims, largely hidden from public view”. He is referring to the correctional staff involved.

Ault speaks from death penalty experience in several states when he claims that post-traumatic stress is even worse for correctional staff than it is for battlefield veterans.  This, he believes, is because during executions the person to be killed is “a known human being who is totally defenseless when brought into the death chamber” and “poses no threat to them personally”.

Ault maintains that the “feelings of guilt, shame and mental torment” extend beyond the execution team to other prison staff. Correctional staff often form meaningful relationships over many years with inmates, supporting them as they mature and develop remorse; inevitably those staff are affected when an inmate is then killed. Ault adds that the damage spreads still further, causing “depression, anxiety and other mental and physical impacts” even in staff working in other parts of the prison.

How much greater must this trauma be where the person to be executed has a strong claim of innocence, as Willie Manning has.

No civilized society should inflict this trauma on its citizens. If for no other reason, the death penalty should end.

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

Sickness and Deaths

Willie Manning’s prison, Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, is inspected annually; failures in safety and health obligations are then uncovered. Several times previously we have noted the problems at the prison.* This year is no different: an inspection in June exposed very many environmental sanitation and health deficiencies across the prison e.g.
flooding and leaks,
lack of lights, power and water,
broken toilets and sinks
missing pillows and mattresses
black mold and mildew
exposed wiring
raw sewage
inoperable showers and ice machines

Unit 29, where Willie is incarcerated, has the most violations. This unit has 1500 beds, of which 41 are allocated to death row inmates.

Cliff Johnson, director of the MacArthur Justice Center, states that “long-term exposure to unhealthy and dangerous conditions”, together with staff shortages, are implicated in sickness and deaths among prisoners.

Attorney Ron Welch, who has represented state prisoners against Mississippi, notes that skimping on maintenance is a false economy for taxpayers: unmaintained buildings do not last as long as well-maintained ones.

However, instead of investing more for the sake of safety, health and sound economics, Mississippi lawmakers have recently approved a reduction in Parchman’s budget for next year (2.6% less than the prison was allocated this year).

Far from improving, it seems likely that conditions at Parchman will continue to deteriorate. We wish Willie the strength to survive.

*See here and here and here.

Posted in Mississippi, Mississippi State Penitentiary, Parchman, prison conditions, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,