Mississippi inmate denied DNA test, execution set for Tuesday

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A Mississippi inmate set to be executed on Tuesday has been denied requests for DNA testing.

Willie Jerome Manning, 44, was convicted of killing two college students and sentenced to prison in 1992. His conviction and death sentence were upheld in a 5-4 ruling by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Now, days before his execution, Manning’s Lawyers say that holes in the case remain, and they were seeking DNA tests, along with the opportunity to further evaluate the physical evidence in the case, according to Sunday’s New York Times.

However, a majority of the justices ruled that forensic tests conducted at the time of the crime provided strong evidence that ties Manning to the murders and they find no need to conduct additional tests.

The State Supreme Court denied requests for DNA testing on April 25th, saying there was a “conclusive, overwhelming evidence of guilt” at the trial linking Manning to the kidnapping and murder of Tiffany Miller and Jon Steckler.

A double murder in 1992

Miller and Steckler, college students at Mississippi State University, were found shot to death in their apartment in December 1992.

Witnesses at the trial linked Manning to the killings, saying that they saw him attempting to sell items from a car that was broken into at Mr. Steckler’s fraternity house, including a CD player sold to a pawn shop that was later traced back to Manning. A gold-colored token that had been missing from the vehicle was later found at the scene of the crime.

Both Miller and Steckler were white. Manning is black.

Manning’s former girlfriend was among those who testified at the trial and linked him to the murder weapon. Lawyers, however, say that Manning is innocent. They argue the data and evidence are inconclusive and that Manning’s former girlfriend received an $18,000 reward and a plea deal on fraud charges in exchange for her testimony. They also say that fingerprints found in Ms. Miller’s car didn’t match Manning’s.

Court refuses additional review

The court’s refusal to provide further DNA testing is considered by experts to be rare.

“Today I think it’s become increasingly rare not to go through the whole bank of tests because of what’s at stake,” Richard C. Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told the Times.

Meanwhile, Dov Fox of the Georgetown University Law Center writes in a Huffpost blog that “no physical evidence has ever linked Manning to the crime.”

Still, the State Supreme Court believes that the DNA tests would not “preclude his participation in the crimes” and Manning, who has been on death row for over two decades now, will be executed tomorrow.

Case files:

Jimmerson and Jordan complaint

Statement of facts in Miller Steckler case

Women beaten with iron