By Jack Elliott Jr./The Associated Press
JACKSON — Willie Jerome Manning, who won a stay of execution in one capital case, waits to hear if an Oktibbeha County judge agrees he was denied a fair trial in 1996 when he was sentenced to death for the slayings of two women.
The judge has promised a decision by the end of June. The Mississippi Supreme Court will have the final say on whether the death sentence will stand.
On May 7, Manning was within hours of being executed for the fatal shootings of two Mississippi State University students when the state Supreme Court ordered a reprieve. The Supreme Court has not said why it issued the stay. Manning had argued DNA testing would prove him innocent.
The execution overshadowed the pending case in Oktibbeha County.
Manning was convicted in 1996 in the deaths of Emmoline Jimmerson, 90, and her daughter Alberta Jordan, 60, in Starkville. The women were beaten and their throats slashed during a robbery attempt in 1993 at their apartment. The Supreme Court upheld his two death sentences in 2000.
In 2004, the Mississippi court said Manning could pursue a post-conviction argument on whether prosecutors withheld certain evidence, whether prosecutors presented false evidence and whether Manning was denied effective assistance of counsel both at trial and on appeal.
Resolution of the post-conviction proceeding would not place Manning any closer to execution. He would have the right of appeal through the federal system should Mississippi courts rule against him.
The bodies of the women were found in their apartment on Jan. 18, 1993. Their deaths came only a few weeks after the bodies of Mississippi State students Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller were discovered in rural Oktibbeha County on Dec. 11, 1992.
By the time Manning was brought to trial in the women’s deaths, he already had been convicted in the students’ slayings and sentenced to death.
In his 1996 trial in the women’s deaths, Kevin Lucious, a friend, testified he saw Manning at Brooksville Gardens apartments around 6:30 p.m. on the day of the killings. After their conversation, Lucious testified he returned to his apartment and saw Manning go to the women’s apartment.
Lucious testified he watched Manning knock on the door, and when one of the women opened the door, he pushed the door open, went in and closed the door behind him. Other witnesses also testified they saw Manning at the apartments, but he denied he had been there.
The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld Manning’s conviction and death sentences in 2000.
In 2004, the Supreme Court gave Manning limited approval to try to convince a judge he deserved a new trial. In his request to the Supreme Court to pursue a post-conviction claim, Manning cited 16 issues. The justices allowed three — whether prosecutors withheld certain evidence, whether prosecutors presented false evidence and whether Manning was denied effective assistance of counsel at trial and on appeal.
Oktibbeha County Circuit Judge Lee Howard conducted hearings on the post-conviction petition in January and April 2011.
In February 2013, the Supreme Court asked Howard why no ruling had been issued. In his response, the judge said his decision had been delayed because lawyers on both sides asked for more time to file briefs, which he had to review while continuing his own court schedule.
Howard asked the Supreme Court to give him until June 28 to file his ruling on Manning’s post-conviction petition.