AFRICANGLOBE – Convicted double murderer Willie Jerome Manning, who has been on death row for nearly two decades, is set to be executed Tuesday, after being denied a DNA test that could save him from the execution chamber.
In a 5-to-4 decision in April, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that there was “conclusive, overwhelming evidence of guilty” and that DNA tests would not “preclude his participation in the crimes,” according to reports.
But in a dissenting opinion Justice James W. Kitchens argued that “whatever potential harm the denial seeks to avert is surely outweighed by the benefits of ensuring justice by the scientific analysis of all the trace evidence.”
Dov Fox of the Georgetown University Law Center says that “no physical evidence has ever linked Willie Manning to the crime.”
The 44-year-old African-American was convicted in the 1992 kidnapping and murder of Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller, two White college students.
One of the victims, Tiffany Miller, was shot twice in the face at close range. One leg was out of her pants and underwear, and her shirt was pulled up. Her boyfriend John Steckler’s body had abrasions that occurred before he died, and he was shot once in the back of the head. A set of car tracks had gone through the puddles of blood and over Steckler’s body.
Dov points out that a jury convicted Willie Manning based largely on the testimony of a cousin of the defendant and a jailhouse informant, who claimed Willie Manning confessed to him.
“The cousin had accused two other men before Manning, however, and the informant has since recanted altogether,” Dov writes.
The Washington Post points out that the justice department admits to flaws in forensic testimony as part of a broad review of the FBI’s handling of evidence in the 1980s and 1990s.
In urging Gov. Phil Bryant to issue a stay of execution, Death Penalty News pointed out that the tests could provide the identity of a possible second perpetrator who has never been caught and put to rest questions over now-outmoded forensic practices, used at the time of the investigation.
“Since 1994, Willie Manning has been seeking DNA testing of the rape kit, fingernail scrapings that were recovered from both victims and hairs recovered from the scene,” the blog states.
In an Atlantic article entitled, “A Ghost of Mississippi: The Willie Manning Capital Case,” Andrew Cohen says the specters of racial bias, a faulty confession and untested scientific evidence have haunted this case.