After more than 20 years on Mississippi’s death row, Willie Jerome Manning has been exonerated in the 1992 murders of an elderly woman and her daughter. The Death Penalty Information Center on Monday added Mr. Manning to its list of people who have been exonerated from death row. He is the 153rd person exonerated since 1973 and the fourth from Mississippi.
In February, the Mississippi Supreme Court granted him a new trial because prosecutors failed to disclose evidence that undermined the testimony of its key witness at trial. The witness has since recanted his testimony, explaining he had testified out of fear that he would be charged with the crime himself.
In April, Oktibbeha County District Attorney Forrest Allgood announced that he would drop the charges against Mr. Manning, and the circuit court entered an order dismissing the case.
“It is always stunning when a man is exonerated from death row with evidence of his innocence, but Mr. Manning’s case presents the unimaginable possibility that an innocent man may have been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death in two different trials for two different offenses,” said Robert Dunham, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “His cases present some of the classic hallmarks of innocence: racial overtones, unreliable witnesses, and police or prosecutorial misconduct. His second case includes an additional horrifying dimension – two different types of junk science masquerading as forensic evidence of his guilt.”
Mr. Manning remains on death row because he was also convicted in the murders of two white college students. In that case, in addition to the testimony of a jailhouse informant, the prosecution relied on FBI experts who provided two different types of flawed forensic testimony: scientifically flawed hair-comparison testimony and improper testimony that bullets found in a tree outside Mr. Manning’s house had to have come from the same gun used to kill the students.
In 2013, Mr. Manning came within hours of being executed for that case. The Mississippi Supreme Court stayed his execution after the Justice Department admitted that the FBI’s bullet and hair analysis was invalid. Mr. Manning, now 46, is awaiting the results of DNA testing that could exonerate him in that case as well.
Mr. Manning’s exoneration follows last month’s exoneration and release of Anthony Ray Hinton, who spent 30 years on Alabama’s death row for crimes he did not commit.