The Significance of John Wise’s Car*

When Willie Manning was first indicted for the murders of two students, he was charged with kidnaping as well; the prosecutors later abandoned the kidnaping charge and substituted robbery. Both kidnaping and robbery allowed them to seek the death penalty for the murders.

The robbery in this case involved items missing from an unlocked car belonging to John Wise, who, like the victims, was a student at Mississippi State University in Starkville. However, the sheriff admitted that there was absolutely no evidence to support the state’s theory that the victims walked up to the car when it was being burglarized. Fingerprint lifts were taken from it during the investigation; they were not analysed. And though Willie was charged with the burglary, no physical evidence linked him to the car.

The following table shows the sequence of events relevant to Wise’s car for the night of the murders, December 10 – 11, 1992, as recalled by Wise in his testimony. (Other events of that night are included in red; all times are approximate.)

6.30 p.m. Wise parked his car outside his fraternity house.
11:00 p.m. Wise’s roommate borrowed Wise’s car keys, in order to retrieve a liter of Coke from the car.
1 a.m. The two victims left the fraternity house.
1:30 a.m.      Wise went out to his car to get a cupcake that he had purchased earlier. He noticed that the door to the passenger side of the car was unlocked. “He did not notice anything amiss then, save for the doors [sic] being unlocked. There were no marks on the car at that time.” He retrieved the cupcake quickly and locked the door.
2.15 a.m.     Jon Steckler was found, dreadfully wounded; he died soon afterwards. Tiffany Miller’s body, which was still warm despite the cold night, was discovered soon after Steckler was found.
8–9 a.m. Wise again went out to his car. This time he saw that it had been burglarized. “He noticed many things missing, and damage to the car.” However, there was no sign that anyone had forced an entry into the vehicle.

The state’s theory assumed that the car had been unlocked when Willie approached it:
“[W]e just assumed that he [Willie] opened the door and got the stuff out of the car rather than burglarizing it. Since the door was unlocked, there was no need to break into it.”

Presumably the prosecutors also assumed that the “many things” had already been removed from the car before 1.30, while the car was unlocked, and that Wise simply failed to notice their absence. It is unclear why there were “no marks on the car” at 1.30 a.m., but “damage to the car” at 8–9 a.m.

What is clear is that Wise’s car played so significant a role in the prosecution’s theory that thorough forensic analysis should have been undertaken at the time, to amass as much evidence as possible. Sadly, Willie had to wait until June, 2015 for a court finally to order that fingerprint lifts taken from the car, and other fingerprint lifts connected with Willie’s case, should be compared with those on searchable databases.

We trust that the forensics will be completed soon. Willie has waited far too long for justice. We wish him well.

*Information for this post was taken from:
Willie Jerome Manning v. State of Mississippi, No. 2001-0144-CV, Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, filed in the Circuit Court for Oktibbeha County. Filed October 8, 2001. Pages 12 – 13 (pages 20–21 of pdf), ¶33 and ¶36; and Page 14 (page 22 of pdf), ¶37 and ¶39. State of Mississippi Judiciary (Web), June 29, 2015.
and from:
Willie Jerome Manning a/k/a Fly v. State of Mississippi, No. 2001-DR-00230-SCT, Motion for Rehearing, in the Supreme Court of Mississippi. June 18, 2004. Page 14; and page 15, ¶7. State of Mississippi Judiciary (Web), June 29, 2015.
Advertisements
Posted in capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, fingerprint comparison, John Wise, Mississippi, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Racial Bias

In violation of Willie Manning’s constitutional rights, the prosecutor at his trial, aided by the judge, unfairly excluded several African Americans from the jury.  Four Mississippi Supreme Court judges were later to recognize this as “a clear pattern suggesting pretextual reasons”.[i] The prosecutor’s purpose must surely have been to increase the proportion of white jurors considering the case.

Earlier this year we learnt that the same tactic has been widely used in central Mississippi, despite a US Supreme Court ruling against excluding potential jurors for reasons of race or gender. A study focusing on prosecutor Doug Evans’ office from 1981 to 2014 found that prosecutors were 4.4 times more likely to strike black jurors than white jurors.

More recently, in another part of the USA, a study on the significance of race, gender and class in the administration of capital punishment was sufficiently powerful to lead to the abolition of the death penalty there. The state was Washington State, and the study examined the verdicts at death penalty trials. One of its conclusions is as shocking as the Mississippi findings:
“Black defendants were between 3.5 and 4.6 times as likely to result in a death sentence as proceedings involving non-Black defendants.”

The Washington Supreme Court considered this report and the state’s legal record. Its conclusion was logical:
“The death penalty is invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.”

Two states, similar bias – but in Mississippi the death penalty persists. And, as Willie’s April 2013 motion points out, the impact of racist bias in jury selection extends beyond the defendants:
“Such discrimination violates not just Manning’s rights but the rights of the jurors themselves, and it casts a long shadow over the integrity of this State.”[ii]

There is no justification for this. Mississippi should follow the example of Washington State. The death penalty, underpinned as it is by racism, should finally end.

[i] Willie Jerome Manning a/k/a Fly v. State of Mississippi. 2013-DR-00491-SCT. Order. King, Justice, objecting to the order with separate written statement. Supreme Court of Mississippi. April 25, 2013. Page 18 ¶ 26. State of Mississippi Judiciary. Web, September 5, 2017.
[ii] Willie Manning v. State of Mississippi, 2013-DR-00491-SCT. Motion for Rehearing. Filed in the Supreme Court of Mississippi. April 26, 2013. Page 6 (page 7 of pdf). State of Mississippi Judiciary. Web, November 3, 2018.

 

Posted in capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, jurors, Mississippi, racism, Washington State, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Work Remains to be Done

The Wikipedia page for Willie Jerome Manning was vandalized earlier this year: it was edited “in a malicious manner that [was] intentionally disruptive.” The page was reverted to an earlier version which omitted Willie’s exoneration for the Jimmerson-Jordan murders; and it downplayed the controversy surrounding Mississippi’s refusal to allow DNA testing for the Steckler-Miller case. Fortunately Wikipedia rules prevailed: the page was restored.

Not long afterwards it was reported that vandalism had occurred to a sign erected to memorialize Emmett Till, an African American boy who was brutally murdered in the Mississippi Delta after a white woman accused him of insulting her, either verbally or physically (her accounts varied). The sign had been defaced by bullets. It was the fourth sign in that position to suffer a similar fate. The sign will probably be replaced, though some say the bullets should remain to demonstrate that “work remains to be done.”

 Emmett’s murder has, with good reason, been described as “among the starkest and most searing examples of racial violence in the South”. Willie’s death sentence for “a racially charged case in the Deep South”  also exemplifies such racial violence: it very nearly led to “yet another Mississippi lynching”, as the state pursued his execution without prior DNA testing.

Vann R. Newkirk II summarizes Mississippi’s shockingly brutal past, which has morphed into taunts, economic insecurity and poor criminal-justice outcomes for those who are black:
“[Mississippi] was built on ethnic cleansing, land theft, and terror; and it was maintained even after slavery through terrorism. It’s because of the blackness of the region that the version of Jim Crow implemented there was the zenith—or the nadir—of the form, a roiling campaign of theft and intimidation that over the course of a century watered the fertile soil of the Delta with somewhere near 600 lynchings.”

Work remains to be done, indeed.

Posted in African American, Emmett Till, lynching, Mississippi, USA, Willie Jerome Manning, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ripples of Sorrow

Willie Manning’s trial for the murder of two students was held in November, 1994. A few months earlier, another Mississippi capital murder trial took place which was to change the life of one of the jurors forever.*

In July, 1994, Lindy Lou Isonhood found herself on the jury for the resentencing trial of Bobby Glen Wilcher, who had stabbed two women to death. To start with, Isonhood went along with the belief commonly held in Mississippi that “an eye for an eye” was appropriate, so a murderer deserved to die.

But then Isonhood looked towards Wilcher… and saw “a living, breathing human being”. If that person had been her son, she realized, she would have wanted him to be punished, but not killed. Unfortunately, she says, the court misled her into believing that the death penalty was the only option. She watched as Wilcher was sentenced to death.

Isonhood was to suffer post traumatic stress disorder as a result: she experienced anger, depression and anxiety. Before his execution at Mississippi State Penitentiary she befriended Wilcher to ask for his forgiveness, which was freely given.

Isonhood has discovered that some of her fellow jurors were similarly burdened. Her experience has alerted her to the “ripples of sorrow” radiating from the death penalty, which can affect everyone it touches. She now opposes the death penalty because of this.

We commend Isonhood for her efforts this year in raising public awareness about the insidious impact of the death penalty. Far too many people are damaged by it. It is time for it to end.

*Information from this post is taken from:
Jamie Patterson, Isonhood Lives with the Regret of Sending Man to his Death, The Yazoo Herald, July 16, 2018.
Lindy Isonhood, The Unseen Anguish of a Death Sentence, Medium, July 2, 2018.
Lindy Lou, Juror Number 2 Trailer, Human Rights Watch, June 9, 2017.
Posted in Bobby Glen Wilcher, capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, execution, jurors, Lindy Lou Isonhood, Mississippi, post traumatic stress disorder, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

Richard Burdine, who died last month, represented Willie Manning at the penalty phase of his trial. Burdine was an African American lawyer who deserves credit for frequently accepting indigent defendants as clients. He was publicly commended by the Mississippi legislature in 2014.[i]

In Willie’s case, however, Burdine seemed to have misunderstood what his responsibilities entailed:
“Burdine somehow had the impression that while he was supposed to present the witnesses for the penalty phase, he was not supposed to conduct the actual investigation.”[ii]
As a result, he was unable to articulate to the jury a single credible reason why Willie’s life should be spared.[iii]

Burdine also “presented very brief and sketchy testimony from only two witnesses”,[iv] when many potentially excellent witnesses were available who were familiar with Willie’s background.[v]

The lawyer with responsibility for defending Willie at the earlier culpability phase of his trial knew they must prepare a strong argument for mitigation in case there was a guilty verdict:
“I became convinced – and remain convinced – that Mr. Manning is innocent. Nevertheless, I was not naive enough to believe that we should rest solely on my efforts for the first part of the trial.”[vi]

In the event, the prosecution used pressurized and incentivized witnesses to convince the jury that Willie was guilty. The case moved inexorably to the penalty phase, where Burdine’s lack of preparation became only too apparent. Willie was sentenced to death.

Clearly at the penalty phase of Willie’s trial his counsel’s assistance was ineffective. Clearly Willie should be allowed to present this claim to a court.

We trust he can do this soon.

[i] From Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington, The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist, published March 2018.
[ii] Willie Jerome Manning v. State of Mississippi, No. 2001-0144-CV, Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, filed in the Circuit Court for Oktibbeha County. Filed October 8, 2001. Page 87 (page 95 of pdf). State of Mississippi Judiciary. Web. June 29, 2015.
[iii] Willie Jerome Manning v. State of Mississippi, No. 2001-0144-CV, Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, filed in the Circuit Court for Oktibbeha County. Filed October 8, 2001. Page 95 (page 103 of pdf). State of Mississippi Judiciary. Web. June 29, 2015.
[iv] Willie Jerome Manning v. State of Mississippi, No. 2001-0144-CV, Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, filed in the Circuit Court for Oktibbeha County. Filed October 8, 2001. Page 87 (page 95 of pdf). State of Mississippi Judiciary. Web. June 29, 2015.
[v] Willie Jerome Manning v. State of Mississippi, No. 2001-0144-CV, Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, filed in the Circuit Court for Oktibbeha County. Filed October 8, 2001. Pages 85 – 86 (pages 93 – 94 of pdf). State of Mississippi Judiciary. Web. June 29, 2015.
[vi] Willie Jerome Manning v. State of Mississippi, No. 2001-0144-CV, Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, filed in the Circuit Court for Oktibbeha County. Filed October 8, 2001. 86 (page 94 of pdf). State of Mississippi Judiciary. Web. June 29, 2015.

 

Posted in African American, capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, defense attorneys, Mississippi, Penalty phase, Richard Burdine, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Welcome Respite

Periods of active state execution are always traumatic for death row inmates: it is torturous watching people that you know being taken away to be killed.

It is very good news for Willie Manning and his fellow inmates, then, that the current three-year respite from the scheduling of executions in Mississippi is likely to be further prolonged by a case out of Missouri. The US Supreme Court has agreed to review the Missouri case, which addresses the means by which an inmate can show that a less painful execution method is available; the outcome could be relevant to litigation in Mississippi.

Mississippi’s execution protocol has evolved in response to shortages of drugs previously used for lethal injections. Midazolam has replaced pentobarbital as the first drug for the state’s 3-drug protocol, despite huge concerns about its efficacy as an anaesthetic. 

Mississippi further demonstrates its commitment to executions by its recent addition of non-drug options for execution: if lethal injection is considered ‘unconstitutional or “otherwise unavailable”’, then it can use nitrogen hypoxia, electrocution or firing squad to kill the convicted. 

The firing squad was initially rejected by a Senate committee but was reinstated by the Mississippi House.

At least while litigation continues, it is unlikely that any execution dates will be set in Mississippi. And we are thankful for that.

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

Flawed Snitch Testimony

“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.

 

 

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

Never give up hope.

Anthony Ray Hinton’s wrongful conviction and death sentence for murder in Alabama is as shocking as it is revealing. Soon after Hinton’s arrest a police officer told him:

“You know, I don’t care whether you did or didn’t do it. In fact, I believe you didn’t do it. But it doesn’t matter. If you didn’t do it, one of your brothers did. And you’re going to take the rap… I can give you five reasons why they are going to convict you…
Number one, you’re black. Number two, a white man gonna say you shot him. Number three, you’re gonna have a white district attorney. Number four, you’re gonna have a white judge. And number five, you’re gonna have an all-white jury.
You know what that spell?
Conviction. Conviction. Conviction. Conviction. Conviction.”*

The police officer’s racist prediction turned out to be correct: despite having a watertight alibi for the crime for which he was arrested, Hinton was landed on death row by a lying witness, mistaken witness identification and false ballistics evidence. Charges against him were finally dropped in 2015, shortly before charges were dropped in one of Willie Manning’s cases.

The racism in Hinton’s case would not have surprised Willie: racism also underpinned his convictions in Mississippi. In his concluded case a white prosecutor and two white law enforcement officers coerced the key witness to testify against Willie. In his ongoing case a white judge allowed the same white prosecutor to strike African American jurors from his trial; the prosecutor also unfairly denigrated Willie publicly.

Hinton is an inspirational man who has sent Willie a message: “Never give up hope”. We echo that message. We hope that it is not long before Willie, like Hinton, can finally establish his innocence.

*From Anthony Ray Hinton’s memoir, The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row (Rider, an imprint of Ebury Publishing, 2018), Chapter 5, pp 51 – 52.
Oprah Winfrey was extremely enthusiastic about Hinton’s memoir when she recently chose it as her book club selection; she declared “I hope every person who can hear our voice today buys this book!” You can watch Hinton talking to Oprah Winfrey about his case here.
Posted in African American, Anthony Ray Hinton, capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, Mississippi, racism, The Sun Does Shine, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Happy 50th birthday!

Happy 50th birthday!

Today, June 12, 2018, we wish Willie Jerome Manning a happy 50th birthday.

Happy birthday, Willie!

Posted in capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, Death Row, Fly Manning, Mississippi, Oktibbeha County, Parchman, USA, Willie Jerome Manning, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

DNA Profiles: the Latest

An update on the progress of DNA testing in Willie Manning’s case has been issued. The statement refers to hair samples, which we understand to be fragments vacuumed from the floor of Tiffany Miller’s car,* and to other items that are available for screening. Willie’s attorney wrote:

“The lab… reported… that partial mitochondrial DNA profiles suitable for comparison were obtained from some of the samples… We are reviewing the evidence inventory list to determine priorities for testing and will confer with the lab personnel about the next items which should be screened for DNA.”

It is good to learn that DNA profiles on the hair fragments can be compared, and that more items are likely to be screened for DNA. We wish Willie well as he waits.

*See more about this testing here and here. For more about how the hair fragments were used at Willie’s trial, see here. 
This post was amended on May 26, 2018, to clarify that items in addition to the hair fragments are likely to be screened for DNA.
Posted in capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, DNA testing, Mississippi, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,