(AP, Clarion Ledger, and others)
The Mississippi Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon issued a stay of execution until further notice for Willie Jerome Manning, who had been set to be executed at 6 p.m.
Previously having voted 5-4 in favour of execution as recently as last week, the high court voted eight to one to defer, possibly until new evidence can be examined, with Justice Mike Randolph objecting.
Attorney General Jim Hood had opposed the request for a stay, saying it is just a delay tactic and that there was a “mountain of evidence” against Manning, including a confession to his cousin. (Note, that cousin has since retracted that testimony and specifically said he was lying to curry favour with police.) On Tuesday, he apologized to the victims’ families.
“I am sorry that the victims’ families will have to continue to live with this 20-plus year nightmare,” Hood said. “Out of an abundance of caution, our Court stayed the sentence until it had time to review this flurry of last minute filings.”
(Presumably Mr Hood thinks it would be better to judicially murder the wrong man than try and find the real perpetrator if the DNA and other evidence exonerates Manning? Perhaps he thinks the victim’s families would rather an innocent man was executed than no-one?)
Manning was given two death sentences for the 1992 slayings of Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller, two college students. His attorneys had asked the state Supreme Court on Monday to stop his execution and allow him to seek DNA testing of evidence.
The U.S. Justice Department had sent letters saying FBI testimony on testing of bullet and hair evidence in the case had been over-reaching for technology at the time.
Manning’s attorney, David Voisin, said: “The order demonstrates that the court is taking our pleading seriously and giving serious consideration to giving us (DNA) testing or a new trial.”
Judge Randolph, in his lonely written objection to the stay, said Manning’s defense has had years to deal with hair and ballistics evidence and that the issues were dealt with “in a long string of litigation in state and federal courts.”
(This, of course, ignores the fact that he had been denied to right to new DNA testing. What’s more, this particular judge then proceeded to make a series of astonishing remarks regarding the Department of Justice.)
Randolph also strongly criticized the DOJ for working with the Innocence Project and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in their evaluations.
“I should not be surprised,” Randolph wrote, “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.”
(It seems like “hang ’em high” as a solution to all the world’s problems is still alive and well in some people’s minds. But credit must be given to the court, it has to be said, in reversing its previous decision so emphatically. Still, Manning is not out of the woods yet …)
Mississippi Department of Corrections spokeswoman Tara Booth said the agency is “standing down until we hear from the court.”
Booth said it is unclear at this point how temporary the stay might be. Manning will be immediately moved from the execution unit, where he was placed Sunday, back to death row.
Manning had not requested a last meal Tuesday. Too, none of his family members had planned to attend the execution at Manning’s request. Manning’s brother, Marshon Manning, however, was visiting with Manning Tuesday.
Family members of one of the victims were on route to view the 6 p.m. scheduled execution at Parchman, Miss., where the Mississippi State Penitentiary is located, when victims advocated made them aware Manning had been granted a stay, Booth said.
In a written statement, Hood said: “Yesterday evening our office filed a report with the Court, which I obtained from the district attorney’s office around 6 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 re-tested, then we will carry out that order.”
Hood continued: “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.”
(So if they made a mistake back then, the fact that they didn’t know they were making a mistake means it’s OK to execute someone incorrectly? I smell bullshit and arse covering.)
Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps said Manning was being taken from a holding cell back to Building 29, where death row is located.
Epps said Manning had expressed optimism to him earlier that the execution would be stopped.
“He said he had faith in God and all was in His hands,” Epps said.
Epps said the prison was being taken off lockdown — a usual procedure on an execution day and that Tiffany Miller’s family was alerted about the stay. Family members who had planned to witness Tuesday’s scheduled execution were already en route.
(What is certain is that this whole death penalty system is ridiculously cruel on both inmates and victim’s families. The anti death movement in the USA is gaining strength – especially because there is now clear evidence that many people are being executed on inconclusive or blatantly fraudulent evidence. If a country must impose the ultimate penalty, then certainty as regards guilt – and only certainty – must surely be the standard.)