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.
Posted in capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, Mississippi, polygraph, prosecutorial misconduct, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.


Posted in Brady v. Maryland, capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, Mississippi, United States v. Bagley, USA, Willie Jerome Manning, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Clear Pattern of Racial Discrimination

At Willie Manning’s trial, the prosecutor rejected African American jurors time and time again.[i] Prosecutors may not use race as the reason for striking potential jurors, so he gave other reasons (and in some cases several reasons). But the racial bias remained obvious.

Three times the prosecutor objected to African Americans’ statements that they read publications such as Jet and Ebony magazines, which are aimed at African Americans. As four Mississippi Supreme Court judges noted in 2013, “To accept that reason as lacking pretext absolutely strains credulity”. [ii]

Moreover, what the prosecutor rejected for African Americans he often accepted for white people e.g:
-He objected to an African American man reading Time and Newsweek magazines; but he had no problem with white people reading the same publications.
-Three times he cited African Americans’ responses about the death penalty as unacceptable; but he allowed at least two white people who gave very similar responses.
-He objected to an African American woman who did not work because she was disabled; but he consented to white people who were unemployed.
-He rejected an African American man because a family member had been convicted of crime; but he approved white people who were similarly placed.

Some of the prosecutor’s reasons were simply inconsistent with the record e.g. he stated that two black jurors were reluctant to serve on the jury, even though they had voiced no such opinion.

The trial judge contributed to the discrimination. When one potential African American juror was struck without explanation, the judge failed to ask the prosecutor for justification. When another juror was under consideration, the judge improperly interjected on behalf of the prosecutor to suggest an additional –inaccurate – reason to justify a strike (the juror had indicated that he was a hospital worker, whereas the judge suggested that he had no occupation).

And, though the judge promised to allow time for concerns about unfair juror strikes to be raised, he reneged on this promise: the defense counsel was not allowed to address those concerns.

In 2013, four Mississippi Supreme Court judges recognized the state’s tactics for what they were:
“…when viewed as a whole, a clear pattern suggesting pretextual reasons by the prosecution in the use of peremptory strikes appears.”[iii]
Inexplicably, the five other judges remained unpersuaded. We hope that Willie will soon have the chance to raise this issue again, both for his sake and for those of all potential jurors in Mississippi. Justice requires no less.

[i] Most of the information for this post is taken from Willie Jerome Manning v. Christopher Epps, Commisioner, Mississippi Department of Corrections, and Jim Hood, Attorney General. 10-70008. Brief for Appellant-Cross-Appellee. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. July 28, 2010. Print.
[ii] Willie Jerome Manning a/k/a Fly v. State of Mississippi. 2013-DR-00491-SCT. Order. King, Justice, objecting to the order with separate written statement. Supreme Court of Mississippi. April 25, 2013. Page 16 ¶ 21. State of Mississippi Judiciary. Web, September 5, 2017.
[iii] Willie Jerome Manning a/k/a Fly v. State of Mississippi. 2013-DR-00491-SCT. Order. King, Justice, objecting to the order with separate written statement. Supreme Court of Mississippi. April 25, 2013. Page 18 ¶ 26. State of Mississippi Judiciary. Web, September 5, 2017.
Posted in African American, capital punishmant, criminal justice, death penalty, judges, judicial misconduct, Mississippi, prosecutorial misconduct, racial discrimination, stacked jury, USA, Willie Jerome Manning, Willie Manning, wrongful convictions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Courts’ Complicity

Steven Hayne testified as a medical examiner at the trials of several people who are now on death row in Mississippi, including Willie Manning and Jeffrey Havard. Hayne was unqualified and scandalously incompetent.

In Havard’s case,* Hayne testified that the infant in the case, Chloe Britt, had died as a result of being shaken, and that she had also been sexually assaulted. Multiple medical examiners and other experts have since submitted affidavits on Havard’s behalf to dispute both claims.

Havard was granted an evidentiary hearing which took place this month. There Hayne testified that he no longer believes shaking caused baby Chloe’s death (the consensus of forensic scientists about symptoms seen in such babies has changed since she died). However, the state Supreme Court would not allow the validity of the sexual assault evidence to be questioned at the hearing.

The Mississippi Supreme Court has consistently rejected Havard’s claim that there was no evidence of sexual abuse. When another medical examiner reviewed Hayne’s work, the court misquoted the examiner’s affidavit and dismissed it. When Hayne himself signed an affidavit that he could not say whether baby Chloe suffered sexual abuse, the court rejected it. Hayne later added that he had told the prosecution before the trial that he had never thought the baby had been sexually assaulted.

Journalist Radley Balko believes that the Mississippi Supreme Court is determined to bury the sexual abuse issue in Havard’s case because it could expose the court’s – and other courts’ – complicity in condoning Hayne’s questionable testimony in thousands of other cases.

According to Balko, this is how that could happen. If Havard pursued the sexual abuse aspect of his case, the office of Mississippi Attorney General, Jim Hood, would have to attack the credibility of Hayne. And Hayne was the expert witness that most of the state’s prosecutors relied on for 20 years. As Balko says,
“It might expose the perverse incentives that propelled the state’s death investigation system from the late 1980s until the late 2000s and raise doubts about the credibility of the state’s justice system. And it could show the courts’ complicity in it all – the Mississippi Supreme Court most of all.”

If Balko is correct, the courts are protecting themselves while failing to address injustice. And Hayne’s ineptitude in many cases, perhaps including Willie Manning’s, becomes much harder to demonstrate as a result.

*Most of the information in this post is taken from a Washington Post article by Radley Balko, who has often reported on cases in Mississippi, including Willie Manning’s
Posted in capital punishmant, criminal justice, death penalty, Injustice, Jeffrey Havard, Mississippi, Mississippi Supreme Court, Steven Hayne, Supreme Court of Mississippi, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Method of Control

Clive Stafford Smith has played a pivotal role in Willie Manning’s cases, first as Willie’s post-conviction lawyer, and later as publicist for some of the injustices inflicted on him.

Last month Stafford Smith joined other death penalty experts in condemning capital punishment in the USA, which he describes as a “total farce”. He argues that executing people has been a method of control, built on racism. [Willie’s two unrelated cases, both deeply flawed, serve to illustrate this argument.]

He refers to death row inmates’ treatment as “torture” [with their years of inhumane incarceration, and the specter of execution always hanging over them]. He claims that
“[N]o-one with any sensibilities wants to be involved.”
He recalls his own “mild form of post-traumatic stress disorder” derived from watching one of his clients being put to death in a particularly gruesome way.

But Stafford Smith has hope for the future. He feels that the death penalty’s days are numbered, because the public are turning against it:
“Even the people who support the death penalty are deeply ambivalent; they know that the argument it achieves something positive is ridiculous, and increasingly so.”

It is good to know that, based on his extensive understanding of the death penalty, Stafford Smith expects it to be abolished within his lifetime; his optimism should encourage us. And we trust that when Willie hears about the words of his former lawyer and friend, they will give him strength.  We are grateful that Clive Stafford Smith remains a Willie Manning supporter.

Posted in capital punishment, Clive Stafford Smith, criminal justice, death penalty, Mississippi, torture, USA, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Legal Challenges to Execution Methods

Until early April only two US states allowed the firing squad as a method of execution. In early April, Mississippi joined Oklahoma and Utah in permitting this “barbaric anachronism of a different era” Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant approved three additional methods of execution by approving House Bill 638. The state protocol now allows the firing squad as well as nitrogen hypoxia and electrocution.

The firing squad option was originally rejected by the House, but was later reinstated, and approved by the Senate. 

Nitrogen hypoxia has never been used to execute humans, but American Veterinary Association guidelines do not permit it for euthanizing some animals. It is permitted as an execution method in only five other states (Arizona, California, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wyoming). Electrocution is allowed in eight other states.

Robert Dunham, of the Death Penalty Information Center, notes that national public opinion recoils from gas chambers, firing squads and the electric chair as being cruel and unusual punishment. Dunham believes Mississippians’ support of such options could result in reduced business development in the state:
“Even if the public in Mississippi thought that (alternatives) were OK, it’s bad for business because it creates an image of the state as being barbaric. That is not a good atmosphere for economic development.”

Jim Craig, an attorney with the New Orleans-based Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center, who is suing Mississippi over lethal injection drugs, has said that each of the new methods of executions will be challenged in court. He explained that every additional method “injects a whole new series of issues in the existing case.” For instance, with the firing squad the state would have to specify protocols and procedures to decrease the risk of torture.

We are grateful to Craig for his dedication. And we trust Mississippi will reconsider its proposed descent into barbarism.

Posted in capital punishment, death penalty, electrocution, executions, firing squad, Fly Manning, Mississippi, nitrogen hypoxia, USA, Willie Jerome Manning, Willie Manning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,