Society

Willie Jerome Manning To Be Executed Today Despite FBI Calling Scientific Evidence 'Invalid'

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht
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A Mississippi death row inmate is still scheduled to die Tuesday by lethal injection, despite the FBI admitting that expert evidence presented at his 1994 murder trial was “invalid.”

Willie Jerome Manning, 44, is awaiting word from Gov. Phil Bryant or the state Supreme Court to stop his execution at Parchman State Penitentiary in northwest Mississippi. Manning was convicted of the 1992 shooting deaths of two Mississippi State University students. In 1994 he was given two death sentences. His execution is schedule for 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Manning says if the court will allow him post-conviction DNA testing of evidence from the investigation it will prove his innocence.

The FBI and the Department of Justice wrote letters to state officials last week stating that an FBI examiner overstated conclusions about a hair found in victim Tiffany Miller’s car, when he said it came from an African American.

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“We have determined that the microscopic hair comparison analysis testimony or laboratory report presented in this case included statements that exceeded the limits of science and was, therefore, invalid,” said federal authorities.

The victims were both white. Jon Steckler, 19, and Tiffany Miller, 22, were robbed, shot and killed in Oktibbeha County on Dec. 11, 1992. Manning was arrested when he attempted to sell items that belonged to the victims. The Statement of Facts from Willie Jerome Manning vs State of Mississippi said Manning purchased a number of new items after the robbery and had a watch in his possession that fit the description of a watch Steckler owned.

In light of the FBI’s claims, Manning’s attorneys filed a motion Monday afternoon for a delay of execution to allow for DNA testing of the hair.

Earlier requests for a delay were refused by the Supreme Court.

"This motion is compelled by the extraordinary admissions by the FBI," wrote his attorney Robert S. Mink in a brief

Mick Bullock, a spokesman for Gov. Phil Bryant said Monday that the governor had not reached a decision on the matter.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said there is "overwhelming evidence of guilt" besides the hair in question.

“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,” Hood said.

He claims Manning waited until the last minute to home in on “this frivolous issue.”

"I don't want anybody out there to think the state of Mississippi wouldn't pay for DNA testing if it would make a difference. In this case it wouldn't," Hood said.

Manning had a history of theft. When Steckler’s fraternity brother said there were items missing from his car, police found a link. Prosecutors believe Steckler and Miller happened to cross Manning while he was stealing from the car, as they left the frat house in December 1992. They believe Manning abducted the couple, who was later found dead.

Sources: WTAV.com, Daily Mail, Clarion Ledger