A Mississippi death row inmate was granted a stay of execution just hours before he was scheduled to die for the killings of two college students.
The inmate, Willie Jerome Manning, was originally scheduled for execution by lethal injection at 6 pm CDT at the state prison in Parchman, Mississippi.
However, the Mississippi Supreme Court infinitely delayed Manning’s execution over questions involving evidence in the case. Manning was convicted in 1994 of shooting John Steckler and Tiffany Miller to death. Their bodies were discovered in a rural area in December 1992.
In recent days, the RBI has said there were errors in their agents’ testimony about ballistics tests and hair analysis in the case. Willie Manning’s lawyers also argued in recent filings before the Mississippi Supreme Court that the execution should be blocked. They cited the US Justice Department’s disclosures on testimony that it admitted exceed the limits of science.
The court ruled for a stay of execution for Manning by a vote of 8-1. The court was previously split 5-4 in decision on Manning’s case. An FBI letter on Monday admitted there was incorrect testimony given in the death row inmate’s case related to tests on bullets in a tree near Manning’s house.
They were compared to bullets found in the victims. The letter stated that that kind of examination “is not based on absolute certainty but rather a reasonable degree of scientific certainty. FBI expert Chester E. Blythe testified at Mannings trial in 1994. But the FBI admitted Blythe overstated the ability of examiners to trace hairs to a particular person.
Blythe also improperly claimed that hairs at the crime scene came from an African American. While his victims were white, Manning’s hair is black. While Manning’s attorneys stated that they welcomed the stay of execution for the death row inmate, they are awaiting further word on what will happen next.
In postponing the execution of Willie Jerome Manning, the court did not give a reasoning for the decision. It also did not say what further action may be taken in the case or when it could happen. It is likely that the court will either grant relief from execution for Willie Manning, or they will order a retesting of the DNA evidence.