Courts splits 5-4 on death row appeal, sets execution date

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – A May 7 execution by lethal injection was set Thursday for death row inmate Willie Jerome Manning.
He was convicted in the murders of two Mississippi State University students in Oktibbeha County.
On March 25, the U.S. Supreme Court denied his petition to review his case, then the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office asked the state’s highest court to reset his execution.
Manning’s attorneys say he is entitled to DNA and other forensic testing. He also asserts that one of the state’s witnesses changed his trial testimony.
Thursday’s order denying that request was written by Justice Michael Randolph and supported by Chief Justice William Waller Jr., and Justices Randy Pierce, Ann Lamar and Josiah Coleman.
Voting to grant the tests were Justices Jess Dickinson, Jim Kitchens, David Chandler and Leslie King.
All the justices agreed to deny his claims of ineffective counsel and witness recantation.
The minority-vote judges also signed on to two separate objections.
The majority writes that Manning’s conviction and sentenced “were based on substantially more evidence than he now challenges.”
“Our examination anew of the record reveals that conclusive, overwhelming evidence of guilt was presented to the jury,” the order states.
Manning, now 44, received two death sentences for the 1992 slaying of MSU students, Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller.
On Dec. 11, 1992, their bodies were discovered in rural Oktibbeha County. Both had been shot to death and Miller’s car was missing. The vehicle was found the next morning.
Prosecutors said Manning was arrested after he attempted to sell certain items belonging to the victims.
In the minority objection, Justice King said he would grant Manning the fingerprint and DNA testing, as well as consideration of whether race wrongly was used as a jury selection factor.
patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com