Today, June 12, 2018, we wish Willie Jerome Manning a happy 50th birthday.
Happy birthday, Willie!
Today, June 12, 2018, we wish Willie Jerome Manning a happy 50th birthday.
Happy birthday, Willie!
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.
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 Manning has always claimed innocence in both his cases, and has already been exonerated in one case. Referring to Willie’s remaining case, former policeman Vincent Hill explains that the murders of two students indicate not robbery, but a crime of passion. He adds,
(At 50.10) “Unfortunately, I’ve said it, and I’ll say it again – there’s someone out there that has gotten away with this murder, because just looking at the wounds, especially to Tiffany, they were personal. They were personal, they were personal, you know. That does not happen in a robbery. It just doesn’t happen.’
Moreover, it is also possible that the real perpetrator has killed again, perhaps repeatedly, at liberty to murder because the wrong person is confined. It is equally possible that in Willie’s second case the real murderer has killed again.
Frank Baumgartner and his wife, Jennifer Thompson, are trying to raise public awareness that:
“[P]reventing wrongful convictions is not just a way of stopping individual injustices: it’s a way of fighting crime.”
Baumgartner estimates that of the approximately 40,000 wrongful convictions every year in the USA, perhaps a quarter involves the actual perpetrator remaining at large. Some must be murderers, who may kill again.
We wish Baumgartner and Thompson success with their campaign. And we hope the public demands that Willie should have a new trial.
Willie Manning’s history supports his claim that he has never committed murder. He had previous convictions, but never for violence. As one of his attorneys confirmed,
“He didn’t have any violent convictions. His criminal history was for things like theft.”
Willie also struck his friends as noticeably peaceful. One of them, Mary Prater, described Willie (sometimes known as Jerome) in an affidavit in 2001:
“Jerome was not someone who was considered violent or got into fights. I remember one time when Jerome was about 15 years old, we were all at the skating rink, and someone wanted to fight Jerome. Jerome, however, just walked away. That was basically how he was.”*
Another friend of the family, David Skato, described Willie as a nice guy who “wouldn’t bust a grape” and “would give you the shirt off his back”.**
This does not sound like the description of a murderer; on the contrary, it is consistent with Willie’s claim of innocence. We hope he is soon given the chance to demonstrate his innocence in his remaining case. He deserves to be granted a new trial.
A book just published, “The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South”, recounts shocking miscarriages of justice facilitated by Hayne and his partner, forensic dentist Michael West, in the courts of Mississippi.
The authors, Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington, believe that a flawed system has allowed this abuse to occur. Carrington feels that the “structural racism and classism” in the US criminal justice system are compounded by poor resourcing; and Balko notes that there have been forensic scandals throughout the USA, which he attributes to “bad incentives and an inattentive, overfed system.”
But the authors also agree that the particularly shameful racism of Mississippi played a part in allowing Hayne and West to operate with impunity. As Balko says,
“[The criminal justice system in Mississippi] was designed during the Jim Crow era for a very specific purpose, which was to aid law enforcement in whatever law enforcement needed to do during the Civil Rights [Movement]. That meant covering up the killings of Civil Rights activists, before that [it was] covering up lynching. [The case is] about how that legacy still kind of remains with us today. I think it’s a system that serves people in power. You can’t talk about a system that serves [the] powerful at the extent of the powerless without talking about race.”
One reviewer concludes:
“The two authors… make the case beyond a reasonable doubt that the justice system in places like Mississippi has been rigged for decades.”
Willie Manning agrees. In his poem, “When Death Row Speaks”, he asks:
“How many times have I shed tears …
How many people have to die …
Before this nation starts to realize
That this system’s all a lie?”
We hope that this book will help to expose the lie.
Earl Jordan, was a key witness at Willie Manning’ Steckler-Miller trial: he told the court that he heard Willie confessing that both he and Jessie ‘One Wing’ Lawrence had committed the murders. Jordan recanted his trial testimony a few years ago, but did not formalize his recantation. As one of Willie’s attorneys explains,
“Jordan never signed an affidavit, so Jordan’s statement has very limited usefulness.”
Jordan’s trial statements, however, were awash with anomalies and falsehoods; this fact supports his recantation. His preposterous trial testimony and his informal recantation are reminiscent of the false testimony and subsequent recantation of Kevin Lucious in Willie’s disposed Jimmerson-Jordan case. In that case Lucious claimed that police Captain Lindley and Sheriff Bryan had provided a statement implicating Willie, and that DA Forrest Allgood pressured him to sign it.*
We have not heard from Jordan how he came to testify against Willie. But the collapse of the Jimmerson-Jordan case may provide a clue. As Willie’s attorneys explain:
“A finding by the circuit court that Manning’s conviction in the [Jimmerson-Jordan] case was procured on the basis of false testimony [is] also relevant to the claims in this case (the college students), because it show[s] a pattern of reliance on testimony procured unfairly.”
Another clue could be the combination of favors and intimidation used by Sheriff Bryan to procure testimony from a second key witness in the Steckler-Miller case, Paula Hathorn.
We hope that one day a solution will be found to the puzzle of Jordan’s strange testimony.
A letter filed on Thursday by Rob Mink, one of Willie Manning’s attorneys, states that 18 hair fragments contained in exhibits from Willie’s Steckler-Miller case are to be tested. The testing is predicted to take about fourteen weeks.
The letter reveals that initially the testing lab provided a cost estimate of an eye-watering $85,680 for testing 34 hair fragments; Willie’s counsel settled for testing only about half that number (18 fragments, at a cost of $45,200).
DNA test results should always be treated as only one part of the evidence; but fortunately, an overwhelming amount of evidence already exists that is favorable to Willie.
We are pleased that the hair fragments will be tested at last.
It is not surprising that public opinion in the USA is increasingly recoiling from the death penalty: the annual Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) report reveals continuing “systemic problems” in its implementation:
“As use of the death penalty dwindles, one might expect that the few cases that result in death sentences and the even fewer that result in executions would truly be the most egregious crimes and the most culpable offenders. But events [in 2017] show once again that this is not the case.
“Instead, states appear to be clinging to the death penalty by executing any prisoner unlucky enough to have reached the end of the appeals process without competent representation or rigorous judicial review, and by doing so by any means at their disposal.”
Of the 23 people executed nationwide in 2017, 90% presented significant evidence of mental illness, intellectual disability, brain damage, severe trauma, and/or innocence. Frequently there were substantial concerns that those executed had received inadequate representation and insufficient judicial review. And those executed were subjected to potentially torturous deaths.
Willie Manning will be pleased that the public is turning against the death penalty; however, he will also be deeply saddened by the abuse of power that promotes the arbitrary state killing of some of the most vulnerable in society.
We hope that growing public revulsion will soon kill off the US death penalty for good. It is time for the USA to join the vast majority of industrialized countries that condemn capital punishment. It is time for this scandal to end.