Just hours before Willie Jerome Manning was set to be executed, the Mississippi Supreme Court granted a stay of execution for the death row inmate in an 8-1 decision.
Manning’s case has gained considerable media attention as his execution date approached. Manning, who is black, was convicted in 1994 by a white-majority jury of killing white Mississippi State University students Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller in 1992. He was convicted despite there being no physical evidence linking him to the crimes while an inmate who claimed Manning confessed to the crimes later recanted his testimony.
The Mississippi death row inmate’s lawyers want, and the FBI has volunteered, to test Manning’s DNA to determine if it matches samples taken from the crime scene.
Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Ann H. Lamar did not give a reason for granting the stay, although she mentioned that a host of motions have been filed by Manning’s attorneys as well as the state.
“After due consideration, the court finds that the motion to stay execution should be granted until further order of this court,” she wrote. “It is therefore ordered that the motion to stay execution filed by Willie Jerome Manning is hereby granted pending further order of this court.”
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Manning was scheduled to be executed Tuesday at 6 p.m. CDT. In preparation for the execution, he was moved from death row to a holding cell in Parchman, Miss.
Mississippi Supreme Court Presiding Justice Michael K. Randolph was the lone judge in dissent of the stay. In part, Randolph argued that Manning didn’t seek DNA evidence during trial and other reasons for being against a stay of execution.
“There exists a host of other legal and factual issues, but time allocated to write is so compressed due to last-minute filings, and I shall more fully address these deficiencies when the opportunity presents itself,” Randolph wrote.
Absent the court’s decision, Manning’s only other hope to avoid death would have been a reprieve from Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant.
The stay comes after the U.S. Justice Department said that FBI experts who testified in the case made statements that could not be backed up by science, meaning that the testimony was invalid.
On Monday, the U.S. Justice Department sent an email to Oktibbeha County District Attorney Deforest R. Allgood -- the jurisdiction where Manning was tried and convicted – saying that a review of the case by the department and the FBI found that “testimony containing erroneous statements” was given.
An FBI hair analyst who said hair fibers found at the crime scene were linked to Manning could not be supported by science “and was, therefore, invalid,” wrote John Crabb Jr., special counsel for Justice.
Crabb said other issues were found with an FBI firearms examiner who testified in the case.
“The science regarding firearms examinations does not permit examiner testimony that a specific gun fired a specific bullet to the exclusion of all other guns in the world,” he wrote, adding that the examiner “could testify to that information, to a reasonable degree of certainty, but not absolutely.
“As with any process involving human judgment, claims of infallibility or impossibility of error are not supported by scientific standards.”