For Jerome Manning, a second chance after death penalty stay
For Jerome Manning, a second chance after death penalty stay
PARCHMAN, Miss. – Death row inmate Willie Jerome Manning will have another chance to prove his innocence in the murders of two college students more than two decades ago after the Mississippi Supreme Court voted eight to one to grant him a stay of execution.
Manning, who would have been the first inmate executed in Mississippi this year, was convicted in the shooting deaths of Mississippi State University students Jon Steckler and his girlfriend, Tiffany Miller.
Manning was also convicted in the murders of 90-year-old Alberta Jordan and her 60-year-old daughter, Emmoline Jimmerson in 1993. Those cases are currently on appeal.
Manning had been moved to a holding cell and was visiting with his attorneys and his brother, Marshon, Tuesday afternoon when word of the stay came just before 2 p.m. He was scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m.
Mixed reaction to stay of execution
Manning declined a last meal, but had milk, three boiled eggs, six pancakes, syrup and grits for breakfast. For lunch, he ate two chicken fingers and a “small portion” of potatoes, prison officials said.
As news of Manning’s reprieve spread throughout the state, there were mixed reactions from officials, and a series of prayer vigils and demonstrations scheduled in protest of Manning’s execution were canceled.
“We are delighted [that] the Mississippi Supreme Court has issued a stay in Willie Manning’s execution,“ Benjamin Russell, president of the Mississippians Educating for Smart Justice said in a statement. “We would like to thank all of those who worked relentlessly to ensure the public and elected officials were aware of the many issues in Willie’s trial.”
“I don’t know why they stayed it,” said Forrest Allgood, the prosecuting district attorney in Manning’s case. “I have no idea. I have not handled this case in [about] 18 years and why ever the jury said he was guilty, I was through with it.”
Mississippi’s attorney general Jim Hood spoke instead for the families.
“I am sorry that the victims’ families will have to continue to live this 20 plus year nightmare,” he said.
Reportedly, Tiffany Miller’s family was en route to witness the execution when the stay was handed down.
Prison commissioner Christopher Epps said Manning was optimistic earlier in the day confident he would be granted a stay.
Manning, who has long maintained his innocence, was subsequently moved from Unit 17 back to Unit 29. And the prison resumed its normal operating procedures after being on lockdown due to the scheduled execution.
Manning’s attorneys, Robert Mink and David Voisin, have been highly criticized for what some state officers are calling a “last minute” effort by questioning hair samples they had access to as early as 1994.
In a statement made Friday, Mississippi’s attorney general Jim Hood said: “Any time there is legitimate, exculpatory evidence, capable of DNA testing, the state is prepared to conduct testing. However when the defense waits until the 11th hour to raise such claims, which could not possibly exonerate their client, courts are loathe to be subjected to these types of dilatory defense tactics.”
Hood is speaking of a hair sample that was reportedly found in the car of one of the murder victims Tiffany Miller.
Hair sample testing questioned
The U.S. Department of Justice sent letters to Allgood admitting that an FBI expert erred when it came to the testimony on the hair and bullets.
The expert said the hair came from a “member of the black race” and was used – Manning’s attorneys said – to tie Manning to the scene of the crime. When they received copies of those letters earlier this month, they immediately filed a motion with the supreme court.
“It is through no fault of Willie Manning or his counsel that these revelations from the FBI have only just come to light,” the motion said. “The false testimony was uncovered as part of a full internal review at the Department of Justice of all cases in which FBI agents have performed forensic hair analysis and subsequently testified in trials…This case was prioritized because of Mr. Manning’s pending execution…”
But Supreme Court Justice Michael Randolph objected to the stay and the motion to set aside Manning’s conviction.
“This is not the first time petitioner has raised these issues,” he said. “Our predecessors on this very Court rejected the hair issue on direct appeal, stating that [the expert] did not claim the hair matched that of the defendant…only…that the hair came from a member of the black race. He also admitted that his expertise could not produce absolute certainty.”
Randolph also said Manning’s counsel “did not pursue DNA testing or raise hair or ballistics issues as a basis of relief.”
“The first DNA testing was done at the time of the trial,” Voisin said in a statement. “We have been seeking access to this evidence to see if it was possibly testable since 2001. There’s nothing 11th hour about it.”
The supreme court has blocked Manning’s stay indefinitely, and the FBI has agreed to retest the DNA in this case.
Hood said he filed a report with the Court, that he obtained from the district attorney’s office, and “the report states that there was no serological evidence from the victims’ fingernail scrapings or semen on the vaginal swabs from the rape test kit for a DNA test to identify.”
“Out of an abundance of caution, our Court stayed the sentence until it had time to review this flurry of last minute filings,” Hood said.
Mississippi Innocence Project to continue lawsuit over DNA
In the meantime, the Mississippi Innocence Project (MIP), said they will continue with their lawsuit which was filed to preserve Manning’s DNA evidence for future testing even if his execution seemed probable.
“I am certainly pleased that the process that we know exists and that we know can pay invaluable dividends to the rigor of the criminal justice system — is one step closer to being put into place,” MIP Director Tucker Carrington said. “It’s a shame that we had to litigate it in this way, though — for the victims, their families and Mr. Manning, who came a few hours away from execution. Reason should have prevailed long ago. We will not withdraw [our] lawsuit until testing is guaranteed. Our suit asks for process and we stand by that.”
Manning is one of 48 inmates on death row in Mississippi. Two are female and 46 are male. Prison officials said one of the inmates is Asian, 20 are white and 27 are black.
Mississippi has issued at least two stays of execution in recent years. Robert Simon, in 2011 and Edwin Hart Turner in 2012. Simon was granted a stay on May 24, 2011 after his attorneys said he fell out of his bed in prison and hit his head suffering neurological damage. (Mississippi law requires an inmate understand why he is being put to death.) Simon remains on death row.
Turner’s stay was granted on the claim that he was mentally ill. That stay was vacated two days later and he was executed on Feb. 6, 2012.
Monica Land is a theGrio contributor and a reporter for Mississippilink.com.
The post For Jerome Manning, a second chance after death penalty stay appeared first on theGrio.