Happy 51st birthday!

Today, Wednesday June 12, 2019, is Willie Manning’s 51st birthday. We wish him a very happy birthday.

On the surface not much has changed for Willie over the last year, but there are signs that the Mississippi Supreme Court is being more rigorous in monitoring the progress of the DNA testing for his case. The completion date for DNA testing of additional hairs was June 5; the very next day the court asked for a status update.

This is good news for Willie, who has had to endure long periods of waiting, without discernible breakthroughs.

We hope that by his next birthday Willie will have something more tangible to celebrate!

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The US Supreme Court’s Exceptional Barbarity

While we were celebrating the resumption of DNA testing for Willie Manning, the US Supreme Court was shunting the American death penalty into new, shocking levels of brutality. The opinion is described by various legal analysts as “bloodthirsty and cruel”, “excruciatingly cruel” and “astonishing for its harshness and cruelty”.

The court’s decision will allow Missouri to execute Russell Bucklew, a man with a rare medical condition, who will probably suffocate in his own blood when administered lethal drugs.

Astonishingly, the court rejects Bucklew’s proposed alternative – death by nitrogen hypoxia, a method allowed by Missouri – because he supplies no detailed specifications for the administration of the gas. As Garrett Epps ponders:
“[I]t is the state that wants to kill Bucklew, and gas is the state’s designated alternative. Is it really so unreasonable to ask the state to take some responsibility for making it work?”

Matt Ford sees the decision as part of a new pattern since the court’s recent shift to the political right: it is now “incredibly difficult for prisoners to challenge the method by which they die.”

But it goes even beyond this: by deftly and cunningly casting aside decades of Eighth Amendment legal precedent, the decision endangers the prohibition on executing juveniles, people with intellectual disability and even people who committed nonhomicidal crimes. As Matt Ford concludes:
“The Eighth Amendment now seems to say whatever the court’s conservative majority think it says—any interpretation will do, as long as it keeps execution chambers running.”

The trend is chilling.

Posted in Bucklew v. Precythe, capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty unconstitutionality, executions, US Supreme Court, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

DNA Testing Resumes

It seems that Judge Howard’s Scheduling Order, issued in February, is working! Willie Manning must be relieved that more hairs from his case are at last being screened at the Bode Technology lab. The lab anticipates that this stage of the DNA testing will be completed by June 5, 2019.

When all the attorneys involved in the case receive the screening results, they must notify the lab within 30 days as to what final testing or comparisons of hair evidence is needed.

After all the lab tasks associated with the hair evidence are complete, the attorneys will have the opportunity to request DNA testing for additional items related to Willie’s case.

The whole process will take time; but the feeling of indefinite impasse has now passed. And for that we are very thankful!

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Conservatives Opposing the Death Penalty

A Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) seems an unlikely setting for action against the US death penalty: conservatives have hitherto been associated with an unthinking “tough on crime” philosophy that included support for capital punishment. Perhaps all this is set to change: this year’s (CPAC) included a stall where Conservative activists sought to persuade delegates of the “inefficiency, inequity and inaccuracy” of the death penalty.

Hannah Cox, National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, explains she was an “ardent supporter” of the death penalty until she actually researched it. She then discovered the problems:

-many innocent people being executed
-huge expense (and reducing this could cause more executions of innocents)
higher rates of violent crime in regions that use the death penalty
not applied to the “worst of the worst” (imposed according to location of crime, race of victim, and competence of defendant’s attorney)

Cox believes her movement will impact and alter the conservatives’ debate about the death penalty:
“We can do better. As conservatives, we pride ourselves on limiting government, 
using our tax dollars efficiently, and protecting the sanctity of human life. 
The death penalty fails to meet any of those measurements. Expect the trend of 
Republican support for ending the death penalty to continue to grow.”

Willie Manning’s two death penalty cases illustrate well the points made by Cox. We wish her success.

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

A Timetable for Testing

Judge Howard of the Oktibbeha County Court has set limits to the time to be spent on DNA testing for Willie Manning’s remaining case. The judge has issued a Scheduling Order, which sets out a timetable to be followed both by Willie’s attorneys and by attorneys for the State of Mississippi.

The schedule limits the decision-making process to 30 days for each stage:

From Feb 11, 2019… …attorneys have 30 days to inform Bode Cellmark Forensics lab as to which other hairs should be screened for DNA testing.
After the results of hair evidence screening are received from the lab… …attorneys have a further 30 days to inform the lab about what final testing or comparisons of hair evidence are needed.
After the results of final testing or comparisons of hair evidence are received from the lab… …attorneys have a further 30 days to inform the lab if any other items of evidence, already submitted to it, should be screened for DNA testing.
After the results of screening of this additional evidence are received from the lab… …attorneys have a further 30 days to notify the lab about any final testing or comparisons of this additional evidence to any samples from Willie, or from Tiffany Miller or Jon Steckler.
After deciding whether additional items, already submitted to the lab, should be screened… …attorneys have a further 30 days to file any additional motions with the Oktibbeha County Court for additional testing of any material.

Judge Howard includes provision for potential disputes between the lawyers for the two sides:
 “The parties should inform the court if at any time they are unable to reach a decision about testing. The Court will then have a hearing to resolve such disputes.”

We hope that Judge Howard’s order succeeds in moving the testing swiftly forward. The delays have been torturous. The waiting must end.

Note: This post was corrected on March 6, 2019; the correct date of February 11 was substituted for the incorrect date of February 19 that was originally given.
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DNA Testing: Dates to be Set

A court has insisted that testing of DNA evidence for Willie Manning’s remaining case cannot be deferred indefinitely.

The Circuit Court of Oktibbeha County yesterday ordered that the prosecution and defense must “set final dates for the testing of the DNA evidence in this post-conviction case”. The parties have 15 days from January 14, 2019, to set the dates.

Willie must be relieved that, after years of stagnation, his case is finally moving.

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

Status Conference

Willie Manning has won the right to a conference regarding the status of evidence testing in his remaining case (Stickler-Miller case).

The conference is to be held tomorrow, January 10, 2019, at 9:30 a.m. at the Oktibbeha County Courthouse Annex.

Willie will not be present at the conference; but he will learn about the proceedings and the outcomes from his lawyers.

We are happy that at last Willie will have proof that he has not been forgotten. We trust this makes a good start to 2019.

Posted in capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, forensic testing, Mississippi, USA, Willie Jerome Manning, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Willie’s Family

Willie Manning’s daughter turned 3 years old soon after he entered death row; she is now 27. Willie has thus been absent for most of his daughter’s childhood and adolescence, and for much of her twenties; he has been unable to share important milestones with her. Equally, his daughter has been unable to benefit from Willie’s support during her formative years: her father’s incarceration has punished her too.

It is not just Willie’s daughter who has missed out: his brothers and other relatives have also suffered from his absence.

This holiday season we send our very best wishes not just to Willie, but to his family as well. We trust they will not have to wait much longer before Willie can finally leave death row.

Posted in African American, capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, Death Row, Fly Manning, Mississippi, USA, Willie Jerome Manning, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.
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.


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