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Willie Jerome Manning

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Willie Jerome "Fly" Manning (born June 12, 1968) is a convicted murderer on death row in Mississippi. He holds the unique distinction of having committed two separate double murders and being sentenced to death for each. One of his cases attracted national attention in May 2013 when, just before Manning's scheduled execution, the FBI took the extraordinary step of rescinding a report it had made on hair evidence in the case.

Early lifeEdit

Starkville police chief David Lindley, then a sergeant, first encountered Manning at age 8. "Few people know Fly Manning the way I do," Lindley said. "He was a career criminal from the time he was a small child. Early in my career we attempted on several occasions to rehabilitate him. We made numerous attempts to put him with family members, find him a foster family and put him in a home for wayward youths that would give him another chance." Manning became an habitual runaway after being placed in the care of his grandmother. While still a boy, according to Lindley, Manning committed burglaries of automobiles and other petty crimes. He was eventually sent to prison on a burglary charge.[1]

First double murderEdit

Jon Steckler, 19, and Tiffany Miller, 22, two students at Mississippi State University in Starkville were kidnapped from the street in front of Steckler's fraternity house on December 11, 1992. This was less than three months after Manning's October 1992 release from prison. About an hour later, a motorist found Steckler shot and left for dead by the side of a road, having been run over by Miller's car, a Toyota MR2.[2] When law enforcement officers arrived, they found Miller's body in nearby woods. She had been shot twice. Steckler died shortly thereafter. In the morning, Miller's car was found near the MSU campus.[3]

Also that morning, one of Steckler's fraternity brothers, John Wise, found his car had been burglarized. One of the items stolen was a gas station token.[4] Only two businesses in Mississippi were known to use this kind of token. The same kind of token was found alongside Miller's body.[5]

Manning had a record of convictions for theft and other crimes and had recently been paroled.[6] The trial of Manning included testimony that he possessed and also tried to sell items stolen from the Wise burglary.[7] Manning's girlfriend, who testified to Manning's possession of the stolen property, also testified that Manning had been using a tree for target practice. Slugs recovered from the tree were fired from the same gun used to kill Steckler and Miller.[8]

Manning was convicted of the murders of Steckler and Miller after a jury trial and was sentenced to death on November 8, 1994.

Years later, teenagers found a gun matching the shell casings from the murder behind Manning's mother's house.[9]

Miller's mother Pamela Cole told a reporter that Manning's death would bring her peace. "It's just 21 years late," she said. "Not a day goes by that I realize what I would have missed, all because of this one joker that decided he was going to play God one night."[10]

Second double murderEdit

On the evening of January 18, 1993, Martin Luther King Day, about five weeks after the Steckler-Miller double murder, 90-year-old Emmoline Jimmerson and her 60-year-old daughter Alberta Jordan were murdered during a robbery in Starkville. The victims were beaten and their throats slashed.[11] A witness, Kevin Lucious, testified that he saw Manning enter the Jimmerson-Jordan apartment on the night of the murders. Lucious also testified that Manning later told him that he wouldn't have done it if he'd known they only had $12.[12] Manning told police he had not been at the apartment complex on MLK Day, but in addition to Lucious, four other eyewitnesses placed him there. According to Chief Lindley, Manning knew the two women. "He beat them to death with a laundry iron and then cut their heads almost off. He slaughtered them for very little money. He is a very violent, dangerous individual."[13]

After a jury trial, Manning was convicted of the murders of Jimmerson and Jordan on July 24, 1996, and the next day, the jury sentenced him to death.

VictimsEdit

Jon Stephen Steckler was a sophomore majoring in forest resources. He was an athlete who played high school football for Cathedral High School and a practicing Catholic who served in the mission field in Mexico. He was also an outdoorsman and hunter.[14] Pamela Tiffany Miller was a third-year sophomore (having taken a year off) from Madison, Mississippi and studying nursing.[15]

Attack at courthouseEdit

On January 12, 2011, Manning attacked Oktibbeha County Sheriff Dolph Bryan and jailer Jimmy Vaughn at the courthouse annex. Manning was refusing to enter a holding cell because it had no cushion. Bryan and Vaughn were treated at hospital for minor injuries.[16]

AppealsEdit

Manning appealed the first conviction and death sentence (Steckler-Miller) to the Mississippi Supreme Court. They were affirmed by the court in 1998.[17] Manning appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States. His petition for certiorari was denied on April 5, 1999.[18] Manning next pursued another review by the Mississippi Supreme Court, and this was denied in 2006.[19]

Manning also appealed the second conviction and death sentence (Jimmerson-Jordan) to the Mississippi Supreme Court. The court affirmed the conviction and death sentence in 1999, but sent the case back to the county court to conduct a Batson hearing to determine if racially impermissible jury selection happened in the trial.[20] In 2000, after the county court determined there had been no Batson violation, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and death sentence.[21] Manning's petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied in 2001.[22] Manning then pursued another review by the Mississippi Supreme Court. The court in 2004 granted Manning leave "to seek post-conviction relief at an evidentiary hearing in the trial court on the issues of whether the State withheld exculpatory evidence, whether the State presented false evidence and whether Manning was denied effective assistance of counsel both at trial and on appeal," but otherwise upheld his conviction and death sentence.[23]

The U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari in Manning's final appeals on March 25, 2013. There were no dissenters. On May 20, 2013, Judge Lee Howard denied Manning's request for a new trial. Manning filed a new appeal with the Mississippi Supreme Court on December 12, 2013.

DNA testing controversyEdit

A single strand of hair was found in Tiffany Miller's car. No DNA testing was ever done on this hair. Manning alleged in May 2013, soon before his May 7, 2013 scheduled execution date, that the execution should be postponed so that DNA testing could be done on this hair. The state contended that the hair would not be probative, because other people besides the killer could have been in Miller's car, and there was otherwise an overwhelming amount of evidence against Manning. The Mississippi Supreme Court agreed, and ruled by a 5-4 vote on May 2, 2013 that the execution could go on as scheduled and that DNA testing need not be done.

In an extraordinary development, on May 3, 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation advised Mississippi officials that an examiner had overstated conclusions about the hair by suggesting it came from an African-American source. (Manning is African-American.) "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," the letter said. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood responded, "The Mississippi Supreme Court has held that the evidence is so overwhelming as to Manning's guilt [that] 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."[24]

On May 7, 2013, the Mississippi Supreme Court granted a last-minute stay to Manning.[25] On July 25, 2013, the same court gave Manning 60 days to file a brief in support of having DNA and fingerprint analysis done.[26] On January 31, 2014, Oktibbeha County Justice Court gave Manning and the state 30 days in which to agree upon which items should be tested and how, and if no agreement can be reached, another hearing will take place.[27]

BibliographyEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. Sarah Fowler, "Starkville hasn't forgotten Steckler-Miller murders," The Dispatch (Columbus-Starkville), May 7, 2013, http://www.cdispatch.com/news/article.asp?aid=24056&TRID=1&TID=
  2. Web site of WJTV.com, May 31, 2013, http://www.wjtv.com/story/22154822/mdoc-releases
  3. Rod Guajardo, "Steckler gone, but not forgotten," Natchez Democrat, May 7, 2013.
  4. "With hours to go, execution is postponed," New York Times (Campbell Robertson), May 7, 2013.
  5. Decision of Mississippi Supreme Court, 2006, http://courts.ms.gov/Images/OPINIONS/CO32629.PDF
  6. Chicago Tribune, May 6, 2013, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-rt-us-usa-execution-mississippibre9450yk-20130506,0,5285389.story
  7. "With hours to go, execution is postponed," New York Times (Campbell Robertson), May 7, 2013.
  8. "With hours to go, execution is postponed," New York Times (Campbell Robertson), May 7, 2013.
  9. Sarah Fowler, "Starkville hasn't forgotten Steckler-Miller murders," The Dispatch (Columbus-Starkville), May 7, 2013, http://www.cdispatch.com/news/article.asp?aid=24056&TRID=1&TID=
  10. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-rt-us-usa-execution-mississippibre9450yk-20130506,0,5285389.story
  11. "Death row inmate opposes setting execution date," Associated Press story, posted on The Mississippi Link, April 12, 2013, http://themississippilink.com/category/news/
  12. Manning v. State, Mississippi Supreme Court, March 31, 1999, case 96-DP-00943-SCT, http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ms-supreme-court/1045446.html
  13. Sarah Fowler, "Starkville hasn't forgotten Steckler-Miller murders," The Dispatch (Columbus-Starkville), May 7, 2013, http://www.cdispatch.com/news/article.asp?aid=24056&TRID=1&TID=
  14. Rod Guajardo, "Steckler gone, but not forgotten," Natchez Democrat, May 7, 2013.
  15. "College students shot on date," The Item (Sumter, S.C.), December 12, 1992, p. 3A.
  16. Tim Pratt, "Convicted killer attacks Oktibbeha sheriff," The Dispatch (Columbus, Miss.), January 14, 2011, http://www.cdispatch.com/news/article.asp?aid=9599&TRID=1&TID=#ixzz2u7s4aTwa
  17. Manning v. State of Mississippi, 726 So.2d 1152 (1998)
  18. Manning v. Mississippi, 526 US 1056 (1999)
  19. Manning v. State, Case 2001-DR-00230-SCT, decided March 9, 2006.
  20. Manning v. State, 735 So.2d 323 (1999)
  21. "Judge Denies Death Row Inmate Manning New Trial," Jackson Free Press, May 21, 2013.
  22. Manning v. Mississippi, 532 US 907 (2001)
  23. "Judge DEnies Death Row Inmate Manning New Trial," Jackson Free Press, May 21, 2013.
  24. Chicago Tribune, May 6, 2013, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-rt-us-usa-execution-mississippibre9450yk-20130506,0,5285389.story
  25. "Miss. Supreme Court Blocks Tuesday Execution," AP article, Jackson Free Press, May 7, 2013.
  26. "DNA test granted for Miss. death row inmate," Jackson Clarion-Ledger, July 25, 2013.
  27. Order of Oktibbeha County Justice Court, Case No. 2011-0144-CVH, Manning v. State.

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