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

Five Years On

May 7, 2013 was Willie Manning’s scheduled execution date. Five years on, we recall that time through quotations. And we sincerely hope that Willie will never again experience that appalling trauma.

“Mississippi, prove that institutional racism is no longer a part of your southern heritage, or admit that the execution of Willie Manning is yet another Mississippi lynching.”
Sister Maati, of Our Community Against Racism, May 3, 2013

To … sanction the execution of Willie Manning … would be counter to fundamental due process, the eighth and fourteenth amendments to the Constitution and to the Mississippi Constitution.”
Willie Manning v. State of Mississippi. Reply to State’s Opposition, May 6, 2013*

“We’ll be having a vigil at Smith Park in downtown Jackson at 5:45pm tomorrow afternoon.  Another vigil is planned for the same time at the demonstration area of Parchman.  Arrival time is between 4pm and 5pm.  The gates shut at 5pm on the dot.”
Ben Russell, Mississippians Educating for Smart Justice, May 6 2013

“The FBI, in an unprecedented string of three letters, has admitted that two of its experts gave false testimony at Manning’s trial…”
Willie Manning v. State of Mississippi. Supplement to Motion to Stay Execution… May 7 2013†

“[That was] one of the hardest days of my life, you know. I was making that the execution was going to go through. It was, like, you got three hours you know.”     
Marshon Manning (Willie’s brother), speaking about being with Willie on May 7, 2013   

“Manning is finding plenty of support for a review of new evidence from the online community. Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites are asking people to get involved before the final hour of execution … it appears that the man who might be innocent is getting international attention.”
AllVoices, May 7, 2013

“Going through that whole process had left me in a way mentally that I could not explain. I still can’t… That was truly an experience…”
Willie Manning, writing about the stress of being hours from execution

“A Mississippi man scheduled to be put to death on Tuesday was granted a stay of execution by the State Supreme Court, after the United States Department of Justice sent lawyers and officials involved in the case several letters disavowing the degree of certainty expressed by F.B.I. forensic experts at the man’s trial.”
New York Times,  May 7, 2013

“In my view, executing someone based on dubious evidence reflects more on the executioner than it does on the condemned.”
Andrew Cohen, May 8, 2013

* Willie Manning v. State of Mississippi. 2013-DR-00491-SCT. Reply to State’s Opposition. In the Supreme Court of Mississippi, May 6, 2013. State of Mississippi Judiciary. Web. May 6, 2018.
†Willie Manning v. State of Mississippi. 2013-DR-00491-SCT. Supplement to Motion to Stay Execution and Set Aside Convictions, Second Motion for Leave to File Successive Petition for Post-Conviction Relief,  and Motion in the Alternative for Post-Conviction Relief. In the Supreme Court of Mississippi, May 7 2013. State of Mississippi Judiciary. Web. May 6, 2018.




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

Two Unqualifed Attorneys

In Willie Manning’s 1992 case, the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court had great difficulty performing its duty to appoint a post-conviction attorney who was qualified for capital cases. The court ignored Willie’s own choice of attorney, who was suitably qualified. Instead it appointed first one, and then, incredibly, a second attorney who lacked the requisite qualifications.

As a result of the delays, Willie missed a crucial filing deadline; he was unfairly blamed for this error.* Appallingly, this led to an execution date being scheduled for him.

It is hard to avoid Tucker Carrington’s conclusion:
“In my mind, the state had written Willie off. ‘Who gives a f*** about this guy?”

A report published last month, The Right to Counsel in Mississippi, reveals that there are many state wide problems in indigent defense lawyering . It notes that “Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in the nation” … “against a backdrop of higher crime than that seen nationally.” The authors find that counties and municipalities thus struggle to fund even the minimum constitutional requirements for effective indigent defense.

The report concludes by recommending legislation to help the state improve defense services for those of limited means.

We hope that the report’s recommendations are implemented. Willie’s suffering should not be repeated.

* Willie Jerome Manning Petitioner-Appellant & Cross-Appellee v. Christopher Epps, Commisioner, Mississippi Department of Corrections, and Jim Hood, Attorney General, Respondents-Appellees & Cross-Appellants. 10-70008. Response to Cross-Appeal and Reply Brief of Petitioner-Appellant filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Filed December 15, 2010. Pages 6 – 11 (pages 15 – 20 of pdf).


Posted in African American, death penalty, defense attorneys, legislation, Mississippi, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,