Miss. AG: Test wouldn't exonerate death row inmate

By Jack Elliott Jr./The Associated Press


JACKSON — Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood says a new round of DNA testing on evidence collected against death row inmate Willie Jerome Manning would not exonerate him in the 1992 deaths of two students.

Manning, now 44, is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the state penitentiary at Parchman.

“Any time there is legitimate, exculpatory evidence, capable of DNA testing, the state is prepared to conduct testing,” Hood said in a statement released late Friday.

“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.”

Manning, who is black, had argued that hair found in one of the victim’s cars was not proved to be his. DNA showed that the hair was from a black person, but other blacks had been seen in the car, according to trial testimony.

Hood said Manning could have had the hair tested at any time but had not.

The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday refused to stop the execution, in a 5-4 decision.

Manning’s lawyers have asked Gov. Phil Bryant for a stay. Bryant spokesman Mick Bullock said Friday that the governor is reviewing the case.

Manning’s attorney, David P. Voisin of Jackson, said Saturday that he’s awaiting a decision by Bryant before considering new appeals.

“I don’t have a timetable. It depends on when we would get it (Bryant’s decision) and things like that,” Voisin said.

Voisin said an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is one of the options.

He also said Hood is missing the point on the FBI’s offer to conduct new testing.

“The first DNA testing was done at the time of the trial. We have been seeking access to this evidence to see if it was possibly testable since 2001. There’s nothing 11th hour about it,” Voisin said.

The Washington Post reported Friday (http://wapo.st/15bWdEP ) that federal officials are offering to retest the DNA in the case. Federal officials, in a letter to Mississippi officials and Voisin, said Manning’s case was part of a broad review of the FBI’s handling of scientific evidence in thousands of violent crimes in the 1980s and 1990s.

The FBI announced last year that they would seek to correct past errors in forensic hair examinations before 2000.

Voisin said Saturday that he knew the FBI was conducting a review but didn’t know when it would announce anything.

“It came out of the blue but it was good to hear,” he said.

Hood countered that Manning has repeatedly lost in the courts.

“The Mississippi Supreme Court has held that the evidence is so overwhelming as to Manning’s guilt. Even if technologies were available to determine the source of the hair, to indicate someone other than Manning, it would not negate other evidence that shows his guilt. He is a violent person who committed these heinous murders,” Hood said in the statement.

Manning was handed two death sentences for the slayings of Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller, whose bodies were discovered in rural Oktibbeha County on Dec. 11, 1992. Each was shot to death, and Miller’s car was missing. The vehicle was found the next morning.

Prosecutors said Manning was arrested after he tried to sell some items belonging to the victims.