The Mississippi Supreme Court stayed the execution of Willie Jerome Manning, who was scheduled to die Tuesday night at 6 at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.
Manning was convicted in 1994 of killing two Mississippi State students in front of the campus’ Sigma Chi fraternity house.
Justices voted 8-1 to issue the stay. Justice Michael Randolph, of Hattiesburg, dissented.
Randolph was critical of the court’s decision, writing that Manning had failed to comply with the statutory requirements attached to his claim that DNA testing on a hair found in one of the victim’s cars could possibly exonerate him. Randolph took particular issue with letters submitted with the hair analysis from the U.S. Department of Justice that were unsigned.
“The letters challenge not only former FBI experts in hair, but also ballistics. Our established law and justice require more,” Randolph wrote in his opinion.
Randolph also pointed out what he felt were discrepancies in one of the DOJ letters, which said mitochondrial DNA testing became routine in 2000. Randolph cited an article published by the DOJ in 1999 that said the testing became routine in 1992, and would have been available for Manning’s 1994 trial, if he had asked that it be done.
The DOJ’s controversial “Fast and Furious” gun-running program also made an appearance in Randolph’s dissent. The program was initiated in 2009 to track Mexican drug cartel leadership, but the DOJ lost track of almost 2,000 weapons, one of which was used to kill a border agent in 2010. Congressional GOP leaders have complained since that pinpointing exactly who is responsible for the botched operation has been difficult due to DOJ stonewalling.
Randolph compares that to the FBI’s recently asking anti-death penalty group the Innocence Project to assist with the Manning hair analysis process due to his execution date being close.
“Although the connectivity and expediency by which this review was accomplished is mind boggling, I should not be surprised, given that the families of victims of the clandestine ‘Fast and Furious’ gun running operation can’t get the Department of Justice to identify the decision makers (whose actions resulted in the death of a border agent and many others) after years of inquiry, and that this is the same Department of Justice that grants and enforces Miranda warnings to foreign enemy combatants,” Randolph wrote.
The entire order granting the stay and Randolph’s dissent can be read here.
UPDATE: Attorney General Jim Hood has issued a statement. Here it is, verbatim:
I am sorry that the victims’ families will have to continue to live this 20 plus year nightmare. Out of an abundance of caution, our Court stayed the sentence until it had time to review this flurry of last minute filings. Yesterday evening our office filed a report with the Court, which I obtained from the district attorney’s office around 6:00 yesterday afternoon. The report states that there was no serological evidence from the victims’ fingernail scrapings or semen on the vaginal swabs from the rape test kit for a DNA test to identify.
After having an opportunity to consider this new evidence, the senior attorneys in this office believe our Court will dissolve the stay and the sentence will be carried out. If, however, our Court orders that these items be retested, then we will carry out that order.
I am in conversations with the DOJ and FBI to determine how these last minute letters came about. After conversing with expert witnesses at our Crime Lab, it is clear that FBI experts and experts in all states used more conclusive language in their testimony up until around the time the 2009 National Academy of Science report was issued on forensics. Since then the policy of many experts has been to qualify their testimony by using the magic words “to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty”. The FBI agents in this case were simply following the standards used in their fields at the time.
The letters sent from the forensic taskforce chairman at DOJ, merely state that the science was not that exact in 1993, not that these agents were not following the standard followed by all of their colleagues at the time, both state and federal, in testifying to the degree of certainty.