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Willie Manning Execution Date Decision Delayed Amid DNA Testing Push

Willie Manning
The Mississippi Supreme Court announced that it would temporarily delay its decision on whether to set an execution date for Willie Jerome Manning, pictured, in a court order on Nov. 30, 2023. Manning has filed for post-conviction relief in hopes of overturning his conviction in a 1992 double homicide. Photo courtesy Krissy Nobile

The Mississippi Supreme Court is momentarily delaying its decision on whether to set an execution date for Willie Jerome Manning, who has filed for post-conviction relief in hopes of overturning his conviction in a 1992 double homicide. His attorneys argue that DNA evidence and a key witness’ retraction could prove his innocence.

In 1994, an Oktibbeha County, Miss., court gave Manning a death sentence following his conviction on two counts of first-degree murder for the shooting deaths of Mississippi State University students Tiffany Miller and Jon Steckler near the Starkville campus. Manning was 26 years old at the time of his sentencing and is now 55.

In a Nov. 9 court filing, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to set Manning’s execution date, arguing that he had “exhausted all state and federal remedies.” Manning’s defense team rejected those claims in its own filing.

Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Robert P. Chamberlain, with the approval of all justices, issued an order on Nov. 30 delaying a decision on the State’s motion to lift the stay of execution and set a date for Manning to be put to death until after the justices decide on Manning’s request for post-conviction relief.

Click here to read the Mississippi Supreme Court’s en banc order

Manning’s defense team filed a motion on Sept. 29 to ask the State for permission to deviate from the court’s regular rules and procedures to bring newly uncovered evidence to the court case through post-conviction relief. On Nov. 3, the State asked for an extension until Dec. 29 to respond to Manning’s request.

The State has not yet submitted its response.

“(T)he State of Mississippi’s response to Manning’s Motion for Leave is due on or before Friday, December 29, 2023. Under Mississippi Rule of Appellate Procedure 22(c)(5)(ii), Manning’s reply is due within fifteen days ‘following the date (Manning) receives notice of filing of the response,’” the order says.

Manning’s attorney, David Voisin, said he did not want people to think that his client’s execution is inevitable since the court is delaying its decision on his execution date. He added that the court taking its time to reach a decision is a good thing because the justices can hear all arguments before reaching a conclusion.

“It’s not about delaying the execution … because he has a strong claim showing he’s innocent,” the attorney told the Mississippi Free Press on Dec. 4. “What the court said is they’re not going to rush to set an execution date.”

Voisin said he believes his client had a good chance of the court ruling in his favor because of the evidence the defense team has presented, including a retracted confession and hair samples from Tiffany Miller’s car that they say could still reveal DNA evidence if tested properly. Prosecutors also relied in part on a since-debunked forensics practice.

“Given the allegations we’ve made and the proof we’ve submitted, we would hope the Court would either grant relief outright or grant an evidentiary hearing where we can present the evidence to a trial judge,” he said.

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