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

Racially Motivated Manipulation

Curtis Flowers is an African American man incarcerated alongside Willie Manning on Mississippi’s death row. The way the legal system has operated in Flowers’ case has been described as “nothing more than one human being tormenting another because he can.”

Flowers’ highly questionable conviction is for the 1997 murder of four people in a furniture store in Winona, Mississippi; he has always maintained his innocence. Law enforcement officers concealed evidence that pointed to another suspect. They used dubious jailhouse snitches to build a case against Flowers; these witnesses have since recanted. A possible murder weapon was found and sent to the prosecutor’s office for testing; it disappeared.

Incredibly, Flowers has suffered the ordeal of going through six trials for this crime, all brought by the same prosecutor, Doug Evans. The convictions from Flowers’ first three trials were all nullified on appeal because of prosecutor misconduct. The fourth and fifth trials produced no verdict: the jury could not agree. The sixth trial resulted in a conviction that was ultimately challenged in the US Supreme Court and overturned last month on the grounds that
‘the prosecutor showed a “relentless, determined” effort to rid the jury of black members and try Flowers “ideally before an all-white jury.”’

Studies confirm that such unfair jury manipulation is commonplace in the USA: black jurors are struck by prosecutors at a rate that is two, three or four times the rate for white jurors. Willie has a similar claim of improper prosecutor strikes for black jurors.

Diversity in juries is important not just for reasons of legitimacy. People are better able to interpret the behavior of others if they come from a similar background; thus black jurors are better equipped to decide whether black defendants are guilty. Personal experience is also likely to make African Americans more skeptical than white people about police, prosecutors and the criminal justice system in general: this would help them to recognize the flaws in a case such as Flowers’, or, indeed, Willie’s.

Mississippi can now decide whether to inflict a seventh trial on Flowers: we hope it does not. We also hope Mississippi Supreme Court judges will be less quick to dismiss other inmates’ claims that prosecutors improperly struck black jurors. In Willie’s case four of the nine judges — close to a majority — decided that:
“…when viewed as a whole, a clear pattern suggesting pretextual reasons by the prosecution in the use of peremptory strikes appears”.
If the court reviews Willie’s claim again, we trust the majority will agree.  

Posted in capital punishment, criminal justice, Curtis Flowers, death penalty, jurors, prosecutor misconduct, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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!

Posted in DNA testing, miscarriages of justice, Mississippi, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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!

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

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