Mississippi Death Row Inmate Scheduled To Be Executed Despite ‘Invalid’ Evidence

Willie Jerome Manning, 44, who has spent nearly 19 years on death row in Mississippi, is scheduled to be executed tonight for the 1992 double-murder of two college students. However, some investigators in the case question the quality of the evidence used in the man’s 1994 conviction.

Manning was arrested and convicted, given two death sentences for allegedly kidnapping and shooting Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller. The bodies of the two victims were discovered in rural Oktibbeha County on December 11, 1992. Miller’s missing vehicle was found the following morning.

Manning’s arrest was primarily predicated on the basis he was caught trying to sell what authorities believed were the victims’ belongings.

During the trial, an FBI expert testified that African American hair fragments were found in Miller’s car. Steckler and Miller were white.

Fingerprints found in the car were not matched to Manning or the victims and have since never been checked against government databases.

Several so-called informants, including a jailhouse snitch and Manning’s own cousin, provided numerous versions of stories regarding Manning’s involvement in the murders.

The FBI has since offered to conduct DNA testing after admitting the initial microscopic analysis of the evidence in the case, particularly of hair samples found in Miller’s car, was questionable.

The justice department acknowledged flaws in the forensic testimony when making an announcement last summer regarding possible exaggerations in lab reports, according to the Washington Post.

The Justice Department launched an effort to correct past errors in forensic hair examinations conducted before 2000, in order to determine whether agents embellished the significance of purported hair matches in reports or trial testimony.

Manning’s lawyers requested a reexamination of the rape kit, fingernail scrapings, hairs, and fingerprint evidence in the case in hopes of overturning the 1994 conviction. Monday, an appealing motion brought about by Manning’s attorney in response to the FBI’s admission, to seek post-conviction DNA testing of the evidence in the 1992 case, was denied by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Attorney General Jim Hood told reporters that the state was prepared to conduct testing any time “there is legitimate, exculpatory evidence,” but presently will not conduct post-conviction DNA testing. “I don’t want anybody out there to think the state of Mississippi wouldn’t pay for DNA testing if it would make a difference. In this case it wouldn’t.”

The attorney general’s office states the inmate’s attorney failed to produce any new information, and the decision had been made with consideration to the presence of other “overwhelming evidence of guilt” in this case, reports the Clarion Ledger.

Therefore, Manning’s execution is still scheduled for 6 pm Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at the state prison. He will be euthanized by lethal injection.

Wrongful convictions happen, as reflected by agencies like the National Registry of Exonerations and the Innocence Project who advocate for post-conviction DNA and a thorough review of a criminal case against a defendant facing life-in-prison or death for crimes they likely didn’t commit. Often times people are convicted on little to no actual evidence, but are railroaded into a jail sentences on false or manipulated testimony, fabricated evidence, and errors in the handling of evidence.

[Image via Wikicommons]