By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
Willie Jerome Manning could become Mississippi’s next convicted murderer to be executed, if his further appeals are not effective.
Manning is accused in two sets of murders, although this death sentence is for only the 1992 fatal shootings of two Mississippi State University students, Pamela Tiffany Miller, 23, of Madison and Jon Stephen Steckler, 19, of Natchez.
He also was convicted in another double murder, but a trial judge delayed a decision on appeals issues until late June.
The state Attorney General’s Office recently asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to set Manning’s execution date after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider his case.
But earlier this week, Manning’s legal team told the appeals court he has more arguments to make, so it’s not the time to set a date for him to die.
In a brief filed Monday, the attorneys say among their issues are arguments that a jailhouse informant recanted his testimony, that Manning’s trial attorney was ineffective and that blacks were improperly kept off his trial jury. Manning is black and the two students he was convicted of murdering were white.
Behind the scenes, defense teams also analyze their chances from Gov. Phil Bryant for a pardon or clemency, which could be a non-death sentence, although Bryant has shown little sympathy with other such pleas that yet have come his way.
Manning’s attorneys continue to insist he should not be executed without DNA testing or fingerprinting of case evidence, which might prove his innocence.
When the Miller-Steckler murders were investigated in 1993, DNA testing like this was not available. None of the fingerprints in the victim’s car matched Manning or any other suspect.
His defenders contend that the “real” murderer could be identified by today’s testing methods and larger fingerprint systems.
“The state did not produce any physical evidence linking Manning to the crime,” his latest state appeal states.
Manning is one of Mississippi’s 48 prisoners on Death Row for murder, some with other associated crimes. Two are women. Thirteen are Northeast Mississippi cases.
If 45-year-old Manning’s new appeal efforts fail, he will be the next bound for the lethal-injection gurney.
He is the region’s long-serving Death Row inmate.
One regional death sentence, though, was reversed by a Mississippi Supreme Court, saying Kristi Leigh Fulgham’s trial judge was wrong not to allow a social worker’s testimony that could have provided favorable information to her jury.
Fulgham, 36, was convicted in 2005 of the shooting death and robbery of her husband, Joey, in their Oktibbeha County home. But her trial judge changed the sentence to life without parole after Joey Fulgham’s family declined to press for a second trial.
There’s no typical length of time that prisoners await their sentences. Some appeals are extensive and some are not.
Part of the deliberate appeals process is the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision requiring lower courts to take extra care with death-sentence cases in which the convicted person claims mental problems or defects.
Mack Arthur King, 53, convicted of murder in Lowndes County, will leave Death Row soon because of a federal court decision accepting psychological findings that he is mentally retarded and legally cannot be put to death.
Two other convictions with death sentences are fairly new for regional murders – Caleb Carrothers of Lafayette County and David Cox of Union County.
Carrothers was sentenced to death in May 20, 2011 for the Lafayette County gunshot murders of Frank Clark and his son, Taylor.
After a highly publicized, week-long sentence hearing in New Albany, Cox was sentenced to death plus 185 years for the shooting death of his wife, Kim, and the repeated sexual assault of a younger woman during the crime and other offenses.
In the Union County case of Marlon Howell, an evidentiary hearing is set for next week in circuit court to consider certain appeal issues.
Howell, now 33, was convicted in 2001 of the capital murder of newspaper carrier, David Parnell.
Three years ago, Mississippi had 59 inmates on Death Row.
15 EXECUTIONS SINCE 2004
Nine people were executed during Gov. Haley Barbour’s two terms in office. Since Gov. Bryant took office in 2012, six have been executed.
Other regional-case inmates on Death Row, by date of their convictions, are:
• Anthony Carr, 47. Convicted in 1990 of the Quitman County murders of Charlotte, Carl, Gregory and Bobbie Jo Parker in Clarksdale. The trial was moved to Alcorn County.
• Charles Ray Crawford, 47. Convicted in 1994 of murder in Lafayette County. He also had convictions on aggravated assault there and rape in Chickasaw County from 1993. This case was moved from Tippah County, where Crawford kidnapped, assaulted and then killed college student Kristy Ray.
• Thomas E. Loden, 48. Convicted in 2001 of the capital murder, rape and sexual battery of 16-year-old Leesa Marie Gray in Itawamba County.
• Quintez Hodges, 32. Convicted in 2001 of the Lowndes County shooting death of Isaac Johnson, kidnapping his girlfriend and her baby, then driving them to Alabama where the woman said he raped her.
• Michelle Byrom, 56. Convicted in 2002 in Tishomingo County for the capital murder of her husband of 20 years and for recruiting her son in the plot.
• Derrick Deo Walker, 32. Convicted in 2003 for the capital murder of Tupelo city personnel director Charles Richardson and a residence arson in Lee County.
• William Matthew Wilson, 32. Convicted in 2007 of the capital murder and child abuse of his girlfriend’s daughter, 2-year-old Mallory Conlee.
• Bobby L. Batiste, 33. Convicted in 2010 for the capital murder of his MSU roommate, Andreas Galanis, in Oktibbeha County.
All these cases are on various stages of appeal.
A spokesman for the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office says it’s not clear who may come up for execution after some resolution of the Manning appeals.