Abominations Masked by Secrecy

Willie Jerome Manning first came to the world’s attention because of an article by Clive Stafford Smith, who continues to speak out against the death penalty. Stafford Smith recently described the US death penalty as a dying dinosaur – destined for extinction, but still capable of inflicting enormous damage. Pointing out that support for capital punishment is waning, Stafford Smith wrote:

“A dwindling number of politicians – either deceptively populist or determinedly delusional – continue to pretend that executing a few people each year will somehow right the wrongs that permeate US society.”

This month the Mississippi Supreme Court supported such populist or deluded politicians in Mississippi, by ruling that the state need not respond to a public records request about how executions are carried out. As Justice King noted in his dissent,* the court had been dilatory in responding to the public records request; by the time the court eventually ruled, the law had already been changed to ensure execution secrecy.

Amid a shortage of some lethal injection drugs, the main, unstated aim of the new law is probably to encourage a compounding pharmacy to make and sell a drug to the state. This angers pharmaceutical companies, which prohibit their products from being used for executions.

In Arkansas, another state where secrecy surrounds executions, legal action by pharmaceutical companies has so far failed to curb the execution spree that the state has embarked on in order to beat the expiry date of its lethal injection drugs.

The Arkansas executions highlight many abominations in the death penalty system: a “parade of the most vulnerable and broken people”,** terrible trial defense lawyering, likely innocencebotched executions. Abominations which, as Stafford Smith explains, serve no good purpose:
“There is no link between American executions and American crime: 31 states keep 
the death penalty on their books, but their crime rate tends to be higher than 
in the 19 states that have abolished the noose. Crime has far more to do with 
the 300 million guns that swamp America, the boatloads of cocaine, and the 43.1 
million Americans in poverty, than the execution of a handful of those we are 
told to hate.”

Arkansas has rightly drawn a barrage of criticism for its callous and pointless determination to kill. Mississippi can expect the same condemnation if it pursues its gruesome goals: the American public is turning against the death penalty.  The death penalty, like dinosaurs, should be extinct.

*Mississippi Department of Corrections v. The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, 2015-CA-00431-SCT. Supreme Court of Mississippi April 13, 2017.   P. 25 
** Rob Smith, director of the Fair Punishment Project at Harvard Law School, said the justices must notice “this parade of the most vulnerable and broken people who come before the court with (original) lawyering that would embarrass judges in traffic court.”
Posted in Arkansas, capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, execution drugs, executions, Fly Manning, Injustice, innocence, lethal injection drugs, Mississippi, pharmaceutical companies, secrecy, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Testimony Procured Unfairly

Oktibbeha County Sheriff Dolph Bryan investigated both Willie Manning’s cases: in both cases he enlisted and managed state witnesses by unfair means.

1993 Jimmerson-Jordan case
Bryan, together with Starkville Police Captain David Lindley, asked Kevin Lucious to sign a false prepared statement saying that he had seen Willie entering the victims’ apartment. Lucious was told he would not be charged with capital murder for a case in Missouri if he cooperated. *

Bryan, with District Attorney Forrest Allgood, also intimidated Lucious’s then girlfriend, Likeesha Harris, by threatening to charge her and Lucious with the murders of Alberta Jordan and Emmoline Jimmerson if they did not cooperate. Believing she would otherwise be jailed and lose her child, Harris became a witness against Willie at his trial.

Both Lucious and Harris eventually recanted. On April 20, 2015, charges against Willie in this case were dropped.

1992 Steckler-Miller case
Bryan targeted Paula Hathorn, Willie’s then girlfriend (whom, at Willie’s trial, he admitted** to be untrustworthy). From the outset he promised her a reward in return for helping him; he also told her that she should not worry about going to jail for the many fraudulent check charges that she had accumulated (estimated by her attorney to correspond to 8 – 10 years’ jail time plus some years’ probation). *** Bryan backed up these offers with intimidation, telling her she could be tried for accessory after the fact (of the two students’ murders), for which she might receive a ten-year prison sentence.****

By these methods Bryan persuaded Hathorn to help identify stolen items, to talk many times to Willie on the phone with the (unsuccessful) aim of extracting a confession, and to testify at Willie’s trial.

Bryan fulfilled his promises to Hathorn: she was given a huge reward and was scarcely punished for her bad check charges. The jury was unaware of the extent of these favors.†

In both cases a combination of favors and intimidation were used to procure testimony. The implications of this worrying pattern constitute but one of the disturbing features of Willie’s remaining case.

We trust it is not long before Willie is granted a new trial.

* See State of Mississippi v. Willie Jerome Manning, Order of Nolle Prosequi, in the Circuit Court of Oktibbeha County, Mississippi, April 20, 2015, Print
** See Willie Jerome Manning v. State of Mississippi, Motion for Leave to File Successive Petition for Post-Conviction Relief including DNA Testing and other Forensic Analysis, filed March 22, 2013. Page 10
***State of Mississippi, County of Lowndes, Affidavit of Paula Renee Hathorn, Exhibit 29 in Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, filed in the Circuit Court for Oktibbeha County. Filed October 8, 2001. Pages 333 to 335 of PDF. State of Mississippi Judiciary. Web. June 29, 2015.
**** 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 48 (page 56 of PDF). State of Mississippi Judiciary. Web. June 29, 2015.
†Information about Hathorn is 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 42 – 52, and pages 63 – 64 (pages 50 – 60 and pages 71 – 72  of PDF). State of Mississippi Judiciary. Web. June 29, 2015.

 

Posted in capital punishmant, death penalty, Fly Manning, Injustice, USA, Willie Manning, witness coercion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Delays in DNA Testing

As long ago as August 2016, it seems that Willie Manning and the State were “attempting to reach an agreement on how to proceed with developing a DNA profile from hairs that were used at Mr. Manning’s trial.”

A new Mississippi Supreme Court letter suggests that agreement has been difficult to reach:
“The previous status update had advised that the type of DNA testing had been worked out, but the specific hairs to be analyzed had not been agreed upon.”

The hair testimony given by an FBI agent at Willie’s trial was afforded great significance by the prosecution. It became important again when the FBI admitted that the testimony had been flawed.

Perhaps it is the very significance of the hair evidence that now makes agreement more difficult.

We trust that Willie remains strong, despite the delays. We trust he will not have to wait long for good news.

Posted in capital punishmant, criminal justice, death penalty, DNA testing, Fly Manning, forensic testimony, hair testimony, Mississippi, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Significance of Absent Witnesses

In the early hours of the December 11, 1992, two Mississippi State University students were murdered. Willie Manning said he was at the 2500 Club that night. As the prosecutor himself pointed out, if Willie was at that club, he “could not possibly have committed this crime. . . .”

Clearly it was of critical importance to Willie’s defense that witnesses should corroborate Willie’s alibi at his trial. Indeed, several people testified that they had seen Willie at the club: Gene Rice, King Hall, Landon Clayborne, Mario Hall and Keith Higgins all said they had seen Willie there.

The state agreed that Willie was at the 2500 Club early in the evening, but surmised that he left the club early and then made his way to the crime scene. Even this hypothesis is hard to reconcile with the facts;* but if Willie had produced credible witnesses to testify that he was at the club later, he would have dealt the state’s theory a powerful blow.

Such witnesses existed, but Willie’s defense failed to locate them. So it was only during post-conviction investigations that Sherron Armstead Mitchell, Doug Miller and Troylin Jones signed affidavits to confirm that they saw Willie at the 2500 Club late on the night of the murders. Troylin Jones saw him at the club at midnight or a little later; Doug Miller last saw him there after midnight, at around 12.15 or 12.20; and Sherron Armstead Mitchell remembered that Willie was still at the club when she left it at almost 1.00 a.m. Mitchell had good reason to remember the time, as she knew her husband would be mad at her for being out so late.

It was between approximately 12:50 and 1:00 a.m. when the two murdered students were last seen, leaving a fraternity house together. The prosecution claimed that when they left, they interrupted Willie stealing items from a car parked outside this house. At the very same time, however, Mitchell was leaving the 2500 Club, while Willie remained in the club.

If the defense had not been deficient in calling Mitchell (and Jones and Miller) to present this significant evidence to the jurors, it seems reasonable to suppose that Willie could have been found innocent.

Willie deserves a new trial.

* “The prosecution had no evidence that Manning had a car that night or that anyone had given him a ride to campus. Thus, according to the prosecution, after spending several hours at the club drinking, Manning walked to the other side of town on a chilly night, broke into a car, abducted two students who caught him, drove off with them in a two-seat car, shot them, drove her blood-streaked car to an apartment complex, and walked the ten or so miles home laden with stolen goods. All of this for a mere leather jacket, CD player with a cracked lid, a class ring that could easily be traced to the murder victim, and a handful of coins?”
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 73 (Page 81 0f PDF). State of Mississippi Judiciary. Web. June 29, 2015. 
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 70 – 75 (pages 78 – 83 of PDF). State of Mississippi Judiciary. Web. June 29, 2015.
and
Willie Jerome Manning v. State of Mississippi, Motion for Leave to File Successive Petition for Post-Conviction Relief including DNA Testing and other Forensic Analysis, filed March 22, 2013. Pages 24 – 26. Print.
Posted in criminal justice, defense attorneys, Fly Manning, Mississippi, USA, Willie Manning, witness testimony, wrongful convictions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What we are doing is wrong

Of all the execution methods being considered in the Mississippi senate last week, it was the firing squad that was rejected; nitrogen hypoxia and electrocution are still being considered

Discounting the firing squad is understandable, as Radley Balko explains:
“We recoil at methods such as the guillotine, hanging and the firing squad as barbaric anachronisms of a different era, when crowds gathered to witness and revel in the event.”

Bryan Stevenson highlights a similar disquiet at having to protect marksmen:
“The firing squad – they go out of their way that not all the guns have real bullets, so that the marksmen can walk away thinking, I didn’t do it. But there’s still this dead body on the ground. If we feel the need to actually protect the moral misgivings of the people participating, then there is no greater evidence of what we are doing is wrong.”

From the point of view of the person being executed, however, the firing squad appears to be a less cruel option than the alternatives, as US Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor pointed out last month in a significant dissent to a petition from Alabama:
“[T]he available evidence suggests that a competently performed shooting may cause nearly instant death. In addition to being near instant, death by shooting may also be comparatively painless. And historically, the firing squad has yielded significantly fewer botched executions.”* 

She adds that, in contrast,
‘Science and experience are now revealing that, at least with respect to midazolam-centered protocols, prisoners executed by lethal injection are suffering horrifying deaths beneath a “medically sterile aura of peace.”’**

It seems, then, that Mississippi’s greatest concern is not to avert “cruel and unusual punishment”, but to prevent public opposition to executions. To paraphrase Bryan Stevenson,
“If we feel the need to actually protect the moral misgivings of the public, then there is no greater evidence of what we are doing is wrong.”

*Thomas D. Arthur v. Jefferson S Dunn, Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections, et al, On Petition for Writ of Certiori to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, decided February 21, 2017, Sotomayor, J., dissenting (page 41 of the Supreme Court of the United States’ Order List 580 U.S., Tuesday, February 21, 2017) 
** Thomas D. Arthur v. Jefferson S Dunn, Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections, et al, On Petition for Writ of Certiori to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, decided February 21, 2017, Sotomayor, J., dissenting (page 39 of the Supreme Court of the United States’ Order List 580 U.S., Tuesday, February 21, 2017)
Posted in capital punishment, death penalty, executions, firing squad, human rights abuse, lethal injections, Mississippi, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Repressive Social and Racial Control

Two years ago the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned the two murder convictions in Willie Manning’s second case, saying:
“[T]he State violated his due-process rights when it failed to provide favorable, material evidence, upon request.”
Willie was fortunate.  If exculpatory police canvass notes had not been withheld at his trial (and later produced as evidence of this), he could have been executed on the basis of a witness’s false, coerced, recanted testimony.

Willie’s experience serves to remind us of one argument against the death penalty: innocent people can be executed only too easily. Writing in the student magazine of Mississippi State University, The Reflector, Holly Travis refers to Willie’s exoneration and the danger of executing innocents. She also outlines additional reasons to end capital punishment: it is extremely costly; it does not deter crime; and it is racially biased.

For many Mississippi lawmakers, such reasons are not persuasive. Earlier this month they advanced a plan to add nitrogen hypoxia, firing squad and electrocution as possible execution methods, if their preferred method of lethal injection drugs is blocked in court. Their bill, House Bill 638, met opposition but passed the house, and will be debated in the senate.

But even if the senate clears the bill, the law will intervene. Attorney Jim Craig has promised legal challenges for each proposed method.

His assurance is welcome. Opposing the death penalty is crucial in a free society; writing in The Nation, Jen Marlowe sums up why:

“When we grant states the right to kill its citizens, we are accepting all forms of state-sanctioned violence. Police killings, mass incarceration, surveillance, immigration raids, stop and frisk, and other methods of repressive social and racial control are part of the same destructive system in which capital punishment is the sharpest edge.”

We wish Jim Craig success.

 

Posted in African American, capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, executions, Mississippi, racial control, social control, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Incarcerated by Fellow Citizens

Those on death row suffer unimaginable torture; the inmates who have been wrongly convicted do so even more. Like kidnap victims, those with wrongful convictions have been seized and held against their will; but, unlike kidnap victims, they are not viewed sympathetically by their local community. Indeed, it is their fellow citizens who have wrongly declared them guilty, and subjected them to incarceration and a sentence of death. And for many this must be the hardest to bear.*

Willie Manning claims he was wrongly convicted by citizens in Mississippi; there is extensive evidence to support his claim. His suffering would be understood by two exonerated victims of wrongful death penalty convictions, Sunny Jacobs and Peter Pringle. Sunny was convicted in Florida, Peter in Ireland.**

Sunny describes how she coped with her wrongful conviction:

“Hopelessness just didn’t appeal to me … they can keep me here, but what goes on within the confines of these walls is mine to create. They cannot imprison my soul!”

Sunny used yoga and meditation to help her maintain a positive mindset on death row, even when her husband was executed, and even after her parents were killed in a plane crash.

For Peter, the challenge was different: he was understandably angry about his wrongful conviction, and needed to calm himself in order to read law and contest his conviction. He, too, found that yoga and meditation helped him.

Sunny and Peter now run a center for victims of wrongful conviction from all over the world. Many of these guests suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); not surprisingly, they are shown the basics of yoga and meditation. The tranquil setting of Sunny and Peter’s house is also beneficial: silence helps PTSD sufferers regain a sense of being safe in the world, and in control of their lives.***

Silence must seem an unimaginable luxury to Willie Manning, forced as he is to listen to the endless cacophony of Mississippi’s death row. But perhaps even there he can learn from Sunny and Peter’s experience. We hope he can. He deserves to find peace.

* Professor Gordon Turnbull, consultant psychiatrist at the University of Chester, UK, speaking on the BBC program, Stories in Sound: Exonerated, at 16:00
**Ireland had the death penalty until 1990 (see here.)
*** Professor Gordon Turnbull, consultant psychiatrist at the University of Chester, UK, speaking on the BBC program, Stories in Sound: Exonerated, at 09:55
Posted in capital punishment, death penalty, Mississippi, post traumatic stress disorder, USA, Willie Manning, wrongful convictions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Status Update

A Mississippi Supreme Court letter last month confirmed that Willie Manning’s lawyers were trying to proceed with DNA testing on hair from his remaining case. The December letter requests a status update:

“The last status update in the above case, as of August 5, 2016, advised that Mr. Manning and the State were attempting to reach an agreement on how to proceed with developing a DNA profile from hairs that were used at Mr. Manning’s trial. Please provide a status update on whether an agreement was reached, the results of the agreement and the present status of DNA testing.”

The information is scant, but we can be reassured that there is still movement in Willie’s case. And, for now, we must be happy with that.

Posted in DNA testing, Fly Manning, forensic testing, hair testimony, Mississippi Supreme Court, Supreme Court of Mississippi, Willie Jerome Manning, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Good Start to 2017

On death row any good news can raise the spirits. As 2017 begins, Willie Manning must be happy to know that a fellow inmate, Charles Crawford, has been allowed to challenge Mississippi’s plan to use compounded drugs, specifically midazolam, for his execution. 

Crawford’s gain was narrowly won: the Mississippi Supreme Court was split 5:4 on the issue last month. But the decision now helps to remove any threat of imminent execution for all the inmates:
‘University of Mississippi law professor Tucker Carrington said no executions are likely in the state until Crawford’s case is resolved. “Until some kind of hearing, somewhere, in some court, I don’t see executions going forward using this drug,” Carrington said.’

We wish Willie a Happy New Year. We trust that 2017 will also bring him good news about his case. He deserves no less.

Posted in capital punishmant, Charles Crawford, criminal justice, death penalty, Death Row, lethal injection drugs, midazolam, Mississippi, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Less fortunate than ourselves

It is ten years since Clive Stafford Smith alerted the world to Willie Manning’s appalling plight. Stafford Smith’s article began:
“It is a platitude to suggest that as the Christmas season approaches we should consider those less fortunate than ourselves, but if we did Willie would certainly qualify.”

Since then, Willie’s cases have progressed well: his second case has concluded with his exoneration; and for his first case he has won the right to have DNA and fingerprint testing.

On the other hand, Willie now knows the trauma of having come very close to execution. And he knows that a court decision can dash hopes: it was an unexpected court decision that dashed his hopes of imminent release ten years ago.

For 23 hours each day Willie is alone in his cell. The shouts and screams of mentally ill inmates echo round the corridors, at any time of the night and day, making it hard to concentrate or to sleep. Food portions are often inadequate. And Willie has been on death row for 22 years, despite his claims of innocence and the flimsiest of evidence against him.

Clive Stafford Smith’s words ring true now, as then. We should remember Willie at this time of the year.

We wish Willie a peaceful holiday season.

Posted in capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, Death Row, death row mental health, death row solitary confinement, Fly Manning, human rights abuse, Injustice, innocence, Mississippi, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,