More on Willie’s Cases

The information on this page is in addition to the information on the home page of this website.

Willie Jerome Manning, an African-American man from a very poor background, has suffered 21 years of confinement on death row during a lengthy legal process in the State of Mississippi. He was convicted of two double murders (the murder of two white students in 1992, and the murder of two elderly African-American women in 1993); he maintained his innocence in both cases. He has been exonerated in the second case.

Information about how Willie was vilified by the prosecutor in 2006 can be seen in an article by Clive Stafford-Smith on the New Statesman website. The vilification followed the reversal of a Mississippi Supreme Court decision which had previously overturned both of Willie’s convictions.

The murders involved in the two cases were very different, as noted by former policeman, Vincent Hill (the recording starts properly at 4.00 minutes).
“It doesn’t make sense… People are creatures of habit. Even serial killers are creatures of habit. They kill the exact same way every time… You don’t go shooting someone and then the next day saying, ‘No, that was too noisy – I want to stab them’.”

More about the Mississippi Supreme Court’s ruling granting Willie a new trial (February 12 2015)
(See also information on the home page about this case.)

In this ruling, the recanted testimony of both Kevin Lucious and his girlfriend is alluded to, but does not contribute to the Court’s decision. The missing evidence about the size of the bloody shoe print is not mentioned in the ruling.

The Court’s decision is based solely on the State’s failure to provide the police canvass notes to the defense attorneys, who, in the judges’ view, could not reasonably have found this evidence for themselves. The Court concludes that if the police canvass notes had been disclosed to the defense, there is a reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial would have been different.

The Court notes uncertainty about why this evidence was not disclosed:
“The Police Chief of Starkville, who at the time of the crime was the captain in charge of investigations and a lead officer in this case, testified at the PCR hearing [post-conviction-relief hearing, held in 2011] that he ordered the canvass of the apartment complex. The canvass cards were all present in the Starkville Police Department file. The district attorney testified that he never saw the canvass cards and that he would have investigated the discrepancy had he possessed the information. The record supports that neither the district attorney’s office nor the defense attorneys were aware of the evidence. The reasons why the information was not disclosed is immaterial.”

The oral argument provides more information about non-disclosure: Special Assistant Attorney General Melanie Thomas states there that the Starkville police chief testified at the evidentiary hearing (in 2011) that he copied the whole file, including the canvass notes, and gave it to the District Attorney (see  October 2014 oral argument video, 1:10.25).

The Court concludes that there was “suppression of material evidence by a state actor”. This actor was presumably the Starkville Police Department, which the Court describes as “the primary investigative agency”; the Court makes it clear that the “prosecution team … includes both investigative and prosecutorial personnel”.

The Court also ruled that Willie’s counsel should not be deemed ineffective, as
“their preparation and presentation was hamstrung from the beginning due to undisclosed favorable, material evidence”.

The two dissenting judges adopted the State’s theory that Lucious may have been squatting in the empty apartment. At the oral argument Willie’s attorney, David Voisin, argued that this theory was “sheer speculation of hearsay of an unknown declarant” and that “the State did not present any confident proof of any kind of squatting” (see October 2014 oral argument video, 46:25.25).

It was fortunate for Willie in terms of his appeal (though very unfortunate for him at the time of his trial) that the State failed to provide crucial police canvass notes, as it was this that led the Mississippi Supreme Court to reverse Willie’s conviction. Recantation by Lucious, and by Lucious’s former girlfriend, did not influence the court’s judgment (and became significant only when the prosecutor dropped charges); so Willie could well have been executed on the basis of highly questionable testimony. We recall that Troy Davis was executed in Georgia in 2011, despite the recantation of trial testimony by seven witnesses.

You can watch a video from an Al Jazeera America program showing Lucious’s former girlfriend describe the pressure to testify against Willie (second video clip on the page). A transcript of the interview is at We were paid to lie and say that he did it.

(See also information on the home page about this case.)

A vital deadline for this case was missed when the state court appointed first one, then another unqualified lawyer. These lawyers failed to file appropriate papers and did nothing but seek to withdraw, citing their own inexperience and inappropriate qualifications.  Meanwhile, Willie found a qualified lawyer who sought to represent him, but the Circuit Court failed to act on this motion.

Disturbingly, in July 2012 the Federal Court of Appeals blamed Willie for the confusion leading to this missed deadline. It failed to recognize Willie’s efforts to procure the attorney of his choice; and the fact that incarceration meant that effective self-representation was impossible. The United States Supreme Court declined to review the case.

On April 25 2013 the Mississippi Supreme Court denied Willie his request for DNA and fingerprint analysis, and an execution date of 7 May was set. In making the decision to deny Willie’s request, the judges were split 5:4. You can read their Order here.

In reaching that decision, 5 judges considered only damning prosecution evidence, departing from practice in other cases. Prosecution evidence is by its nature unlikely to be anything other than damning: in any legal case an assessment of guilt will be exaggerated if based on prosecution evidence alone, without the leavening of the counter arguments of the defense.  In Willie’s case the contrast between the two methods of review is stark: the ‘prosecution evidence only’ method establishes ‘conclusive, overwhelming evidence of guilt’, but the ‘complete record’ method establishes… nothing. Every point made by the State is discredited by the defense; and the State’s witnesses are found to be criminals who were given huge favors, of which the jury was not told.

The 4 judges who supported Willie’s request for DNA testing did use the normal ‘complete review’ method, with the result that they came to conclusions such as, “Manning presented evidence at court that undermined the court’s case against him”. Moreover, in previous cases, such as that of the exonerated death row inmate, Kennedy Brewer, the usual ‘complete record’ method has been used, leading to DNA testing being granted.

The Dissenting Judges’ Views

Of the 4 judges who sought to uphold Willie’s request, 2 submitted separate written statements. It is clear that, in contrast to the majority group, they did use the usual method of reviewing court evidence: they examined evidence presented by the defense as well as the prosecution.

Justice King notes “the prosecution’s emphasis on the importance of (the hair) evidence” and is critical of the way in which the prosecutor presented this:

“The sole purpose of the prosecution’s emphasis on the fact that the hair samples found in Miller’s car were of African-American origin appears to have been to lead the jury to construct a faulty syllogism. That syllogism would be as follows: First, that hairs from an African American were found in Miller’s car. Second, Manning is an African American. Third, because Manning is an African American he must have killed Miller and Steckler.”

Since King wrote his statement we have heard from the Justice Department and FBI that “testimony containing erroneous statements regarding microscopic hair comparison analysis was used in this case” and “exceeded the limits of science and was therefore invalid”. We must therefore now discount the conclusion of the FBI agent that the hair fragments were of African-American origin, and, in fact, dismiss this important aspect of the State’s case entirely.

King was equally critical of the prosecutor’s method of selecting the jury, noting “a pattern of impermissible racial discrimination by the prosecution in jury selection”.

“(E)ven when viewed in isolation, the reasons offered by the prosecution are highly suggestive of pretextual motivations. And when viewed as a whole, a clear pattern suggesting pretextual reasons by the prosecution in the use of peremptory strikes appears.”

Justice Kitchens pointed to flaws in the State’s evidence:

“Manning presented evidence at trial that undermined the State’s case against him, including evidence that Jordan had previously implicated two other men, and that the token found at the scene of the murder may not have come from Jon Wise’s vehicle.”

Kitchens raised an additional reason for undertaking DNA testing:

“If the testing of biological material collected during the investigation proves that DNA in that material came from a donor or donors other than Manning, this would strongly suggest that someone besides Manning (or, possibly, someone in addition to Manning) was a perpetrator. The same can be said of further examination of the latent fingerprints lifted from the automobile of one of the victims, which have not been identified, and have never been compared to the millions of known fingerprints contained in any of the state, local and/or national databases.”

“The victims’ families and the public at large deserve to know whether another, or an additional perpetrator was involved. If such a person can be identified, he or she should be prosecuted.”

Thus, by using a different method of reviewing the evidence, King and Kitchens arrived at very different conclusions from the majority 5 judges. 

Willie’s arguments for rehearing (following the denial of his petition opposing the setting of an execution date) were:

  •  the 5 judges failed to consider the complete trial and post-conviction record when assessing evidence of guilt, and deeming DNA testing unnecessary. They thus overlooked challenges to every facet of the State’s case, and discounted the fact that the State’s witnesses were criminals with histories of fabricating events and with overwhelming incentives to help the State. Willie pointed out that in Mississippi a number of individuals, including former death row inmate Kennedy Brewer, have been released due to post-conviction DNA testing; the testing of available biological evidence would never have come about if the reviewing court had looked exclusively at the State’s case.
  • the technology for testing much of the biological evidence was unavailable at the time of the crime.
  • when considering whether the jury selection was tainted by racial discrimination, the 5 judges overlooked the US Supreme Court decision that a reviewing court must review the entire record from trial to assess this. Willie pointed to clear evidence of such discrimination in his case, which, he maintains, violates not just his own rights, but the rights of the jurors themselves, casting a long shadow over the integrity of the judicial system of the State of Mississippi.

Following admissions by the FBI and Department of Justice that hair and ballistics testimony given at his trial was flawed, Willie had a ‘Motion to Stay Execution’ issued only 4 hours before the scheduled execution time on May 7. The Mississipi Supreme Court judges split 8:1 on this, with the Presiding Justice, Justice Randolph, objecting on the basis that affidavits were not submitted with letters from federal officials. Puzzlingly, Randolph also unleashed his anger about several unrelated issues.