The Puzzle of Jordan’s Strange Testimony

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.

* State of Mississippi v. Willie Jerome Manning, Cause Number 13-086-CRH. Order of Nolle Prosequi. Circuit Court of Oktibbeha County, Mississippi. April 2015.
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DNA Testing: Update

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 evidencebut 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.

Posted in African American, capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, DNA testing, Jon Steckler, Mississippi, Tiffany Miller, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

US Death Penalty: Systemic Problems

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.

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Disproportionate Harm

Those wrongly convicted of murder suffer great harm. They may spend years in prison under threat of execution; they may even lose their lives. Far from being perpetrators, they are additional victims of the perpetrators.

A report published last yearbased on exonerations listed in the National Registry of Exonerations, focuses on the racial disparity which leads African Americans to suffer such harm disproportionately. Shockingly, it finds that black Americans are “about 50% more likely to be innocent of the murder than other convicted murderers.”

Police misconduct helps to drive the discrimination: witness tampering by police occurred nearly twice as often in cases with black defendants as it did in those with white defendants. (Prosecutor misconduct, on the other hand, is aimed at white as much as black defendants).

Unconscious racial bias probably also plays a part:
“Police and prosecutors may habitually assume that any black murder suspect they deal with is a killer.”
Such routine, institutional racism is “more common than intentional racism, and probably harder to detect and correct.”

And African Americans imprisoned for murder are more likely to be innocent if they were convicted of killing white victims (as Willie Manning was in his remaining case). As the report notes,
“[I]t is no news that inter-racial violence by African Americans is punished more harshly than intra-racial violence. It would not be surprising to learn that it is also pursued with greater ferocity, and less accuracy.”

The discrimination extends to greater delays before exoneration for African Americans. The report speculates that authorities may resist exoneration more forcefully in cases where there was official misconduct, which is more common when the exoneree is black.

The report’s findings help to explain why Willie Manning was convicted in two unrelated cases of murder despite huge anomalies in both; it also helps to account for the struggles he has undergone to overturn his convictions.

We hope that 2018 will finally bring Willie good news about his case. And we wish him a happy and peaceful New Year.

Posted in African American, capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, exonerations, Mississippi, USA, Willie Manning, wrongful convictions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Validation of Lies*

At Willie Manning’s Steckler-Miller trial, Earl Jordan was the only witness who testified that Willie had confessed to committing the murders. But there were huge problems with Jordan’s credibility. Willie’s “confession”, as recounted by Jordan, involved the highly improbable scenario that four grown people had been crammed into a two-person car. † Moreover, before Willie became a police suspect, Jordan had willingly implicated the two men who were then prime suspects, Johnny Lowery and Anthony Reed. Jordan did not describe Willie’s “confession” until just a week before Willie’s trial. And Jordan’s motivation was also known: he was hoping for assistance with charges brought against him for looting.

Trying to recover his witness’s integrity, the prosecutor established that Jordan had volunteered to take a polygraph (lie detector) test to confirm the validity of his testimony against Willie; the defense was barred from cross-examining Jordan about this. By deliberately raising Jordan’s willingness to subject himself to a polygraph, the prosecutor clearly hoped to authenticate his testimony. (The Mississippi Supreme Court later recognized the prejudice that such a calculated tactic could produce against the accused: in a later case the court ruled against it.)

Moreover, the jury did not hear that Jordan had previously taken a polygraph test to validate his earlier statement against Reed, and had “cleared the test very well.” If the jurors had heard this they may have concluded that Jordan told lies so easily that polygraphs did not actually prove anything.

The prosecutor’s extremely questionable intervention may well have prevented the jury from dismissing Jordan’s dubious testimony outright.

Regrettably, Willie’s trail was riddled with similar examples of unfairness. It is high time for his claim of innocence to be recognized. It is high time for him to be granted a new trial.

*Information for this post is taken from Willie Jerome Manning v. State of Mississippi. 2001-0144-CV. Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, filed in the Circuit Court for Oktibbeha County State of Mississippi. October 8, 2001. State of Mississippi Judiciary. Pages 18 – 28 (pages 26 – 36 of pdf).Web. June 29, 2015.
†It later emerged that one of those four, Jessie Lawrence (the man named by Jordan as Willie’s accomplice), was in reality in prison in Alabama at the time of the murders.
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Shifting Opinions

November 10, 2017 was the day when Willie Manning completed 23 years on death row.

There have been many changes since Willie first entered the row; one that should gladden him is the big decline in American public support for the death penalty. Gallup polls indicate that from an all-time high of 80% support in 1994, the level of approval has been declining, and was only 55% last month.

Using different questions, a Pew Research Center poll last year determined that even fewer of the US public –49% – support the death penalty.

Gallup’s report on last month’s poll concludes with “Implications”. And of those, the following is particularly relevant to Mississippi:
Thirty-one states, primarily in Republican-leaning regions, allow the death penalty. The likelihood of many of those states changing their laws hinges on whether rank-and-file Republican support for capital punishment remains high or declines in the future.”

We can only hope that rank-and-file Republican voters in Mississippi will gain in understanding about the unfairness, brutality and excessive cost of the death penalty, and demand an end to it. For Willie and for us, that will be a day to celebrate!

 

 

Posted in capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, executions, Gallup polls, public opinion, Willie Jerome Manning, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hope in Sherwood Brown’s New Trial

Willie Manning must be happy that his fellow death row inmate and African American, Sherwood Brown, has been granted a new trial by the Mississippi Supreme Court. Like Willie, Brown had been pursuing DNA testing; like Willie, he was granted DNA testing only at a late stage in his appeals.

It was DNA testing that was responsible for the vacation of Brown’s conviction. Blood on Brown’s shoe revealed male DNA, whereas all of the victims were female. DNA testing also invalidated the testimony of Dr Michael West, a forensic “expert” who had claimed there was a match between the teeth of one of the victims and a scratch on Brown’s wrist. (West’s bite mark testimony has been rejected in other cases, including that of death row exoneree, Kennedy Brewer; yet the Mississippi Supreme Court continues to avoid condemning West’s work as a whole.)

Tucker Carrington, a lawyer for the Mississippi Innocence Project, is hopeful that charges in Brown’s case will be dismissed:
“I don’t know how they can retry him on this.”

DNA testing is not always straightforward; we do not yet know how much Willie’s DNA and fingerprint testing will establish. But the decision in Brown’s case must have given Willie hope, and that will help him to survive his bleak days on death row.

We trust that Willie, too, will soon be awaiting a new trial.

Posted in African American, capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, DNA testing, flawed forensics, Injustice, innocence, Mississippi, Sherwood Brown, USA, Willie Manning, wrongful convictions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Dirty Secret

It is a “dirty secret”, known by few, that the American death penalty system is “specifically engineered to ensure that those who are convicted stay convicted, guilty or not.”[i]
This is how it works.

Death sentences routinely result from poor defense lawyering at trial, which fails to establish the flaws – and often misconduct – in the prosecution’s case.

Those convicted then face the appeals process. At this point, the burden of proof shifts decisively from the state to the individual, who must now persuade a court that any newly found evidence is so “clear and convincing” that no reasonable jury, in possession of this evidence, would convict him.

 But judges still reject clear and convincing evidence if they decide either of these points is true:
1) The trial lawyer could have discovered the evidence through “reasonable diligence”.
2) The original trial was “constitutionally fair”.

In practice, this is a trap for the convicted man. He may well argue that his trial was unfair because his lawyers were thoroughly inadequate; but the reviewing court is unlikely to agree:
“[D] drunks and drug addicts and lawyers who fell asleep at crucial moments have been found good enough.”
However, even if the court did agree with him, he would still be caught by the first part of the trap: almost certainly the court would decide his new evidence could have been discovered if he had had a competent lawyer.

If this Catch-22 were not enough, the court could also decide that the claim has been made before – no matter how incompletely – and deny it.

But even if the petitioner feels that he can somehow clear these hurdles, he may not get the chance to even try. The federal court overseeing his case can – for any arbitrary reason – block him from getting the new evidence considered.

Such is the near-impossible challenge faced by the inmate who wants to demonstrate his innocence. Such is the system that piles on the stress during the long, depressing days on death row.

We wish Willie Manning the strength to keep fighting. We trust that in the end he will win the new trial that he deserves.

[i] Information for this post is taken from “No Time For Trump: Killing Off The Death Penalty”, Richard North Patterson, Huffington Post, August 23, 2016

 

 

 

Posted in capital punishment, death penalty, defense attorneys, Fly Manning, Injustice, Mississippi, prosecutor misconduct, prosecutorial misconduct, USA, Willie Jerome Manning, Willie Manning, wrongful convictions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Without Logic or Fairness

Even in a case with as many anomalies as Willie Manning’s, the reason for making him a murder suspect in the first place is particularly troubling.*

Four months after students Tiffany Miller and Jon Steckler were murdered, a silver monogrammed huggie (beverage holder) was found by the Starkville Fire Department as they flushed out a hydrant just south of Starkville, Mississippi. The huggie was identified as one that John Wise had reported missing from his car, which had been parked close to where the two students were last seen alive.

The sheriff was working on the theory – for which he admitted there was no evidence – that Wise’s car had been used by the killer to transport the students to the murder scene. The police must therefore have hoped that the discovery of the huggie would lead them to the murderer.

The huggie was found five miles from the house where Willie was living at the time. And that, inexplicably, was enough to bring Willie under suspicion. Although many thousands of people lived closer to the site of the find than Willie did, he became the chief suspect. Thus Willie’s case started, as it was to continue, without logic or fairness.

Nothing was found on the huggie that linked it to Willie; nonetheless, once he was designated chief suspect, Willie continued to be treated as such.

We hope that a court will soon recognize the lack of logic and fairness throughout Willie’s remaining case. It is high time for him to be granted a new trial.

*Most of the information for this post is taken from Willie Jerome Manning v. State of Mississippi, Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, Supreme Court of Mississippi, October 8, 2001. Pages 12 – 13 (20 – 21 of pdf), §33; and pages 15 – 16 (23 – 24 of pdf), §42 Web. June 29, 2015. 
Posted in African American, capital punishmant, criminal justice, death penalty, Mississippi, police, Sheriff Dolph Bryan, Willie Manning, wrongful convictions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Terrible Old Rule

Samuel Gross wrote an amicus brief[i] in support of Willie Manning for his concluded case from 1993 (Jimmerson-Jordan murders). This summer Gross, writing more generally, highlighted “a terrible old rule that has done great harm to the accuracy of criminal trials, and will continue to do so.” This rule delayed Willie’s exoneration in his 1993 case, and remains relevant in his ongoing case.

Gross explains that in a criminal trial the government must disclose evidence that is favourable to the defense only if it is “material” (significant). A court determines that evidence is “material” only if it believes there is a “reasonable probability” that its disclosure would have produced a trial outcome that was more favorable to the defendant.

In other words, prosecutors may conceal evidence favourable to the defendant if they decide it is not sufficiently significant to influence the jury’s verdict.

Gross explains the bias this rule produces. Prosecutors cannot possibly know what impact the evidence in question will have on the jury; they may well be tempted to withhold the evidence to make their job easier, knowing that in all probability no one will ever know. As Gross says,
“If somehow it does come outa court reviewing the case faces the same impossible question—what might have happened at trial if these facts had been known to the defense?—with an added twist: Judges are extremely reluctant to reverse jury verdicts and order new trials.”

In Willie’s concluded case the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court ruled that exculpatory canvass notes were not material. The Mississippi Supreme Court eventually overturned that ruling; but not before the initial decision had caused Willie considerable stress.

In Willie’s ongoing case he maintains that material, exculpatory evidence exists which the prosecution failed to provide e.g. secretly recorded phone conversations, and evidence revealing the great extent to which state witnesses were incentivized. Courts have not, so far, been troubled by the state’s concealment of this evidence.

Gross advocates radical action to restore confidence in the judicial process:
“Why not eliminate the “materiality” requirement entirely and treat access to exculpatory evidence like other aspects of a criminal defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial? If exculpatory evidence is concealed, it’s a violation of the Constitution, period.”

We agree.

[i] Willie Jerome Manning v. State of Mississippi. 2013-CA-00882. Brief of Amicus Curiae, Professor Samuel R. Gross, in Support of Appellant, Willie Jerome Manning. In the Supreme Court of the State of Mississippi. Dec 19, 2013. Web, Jan 3, 2013.

 

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