Mississippi: execution imminent despite a refusal to DNA test

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Update, 9pm: possible stay of execution.
We've just heard great news that the Mississippi Supreme Court have issued a stay of execution for Willie Manning. Thank you for taking action.
We'll share more detailed information once we have it - follow our Twitter feed to keep up-to-date.

At 6pm local time tonight (midnight in the UK), in Mississippi, a black man convicted of killing two white students in 1992 is scheduled to be put to death by the State by lethal injection. Willie Manning will likely have been moved to a ‘death watch’ cell, been examined by a doctor, and will soon be offered a sedative to prepare himself for his death.

Now, I oppose the death penalty every time it happens, whether it’s for someone who maintains his or her innocence (as Willie Manning does) or whether someone is clear cut guilty, and however heinous their crime might be. But, if you don’t agree with my unconditional opposition to state-sponsored killing, I’d assume you’d want to be certain that the right person was being put to death, wouldn’t you?

Well, it seems like not all avenues of confirming that certainty in this particular case have been exhausted and that, unless there is a last-minute intervention, Manning will be executed amid another storm around the application of the death penalty in the USA.

Crucial DNA evidence being ignored

DNA evidence that could prove Manning's innocence is not, if the state has its way, going to be tested. Manning's requests are clear – he is seeking clemency from Governor Bryant, or at least simply asking for a stay of execution  (a delay) in order that there can be DNA and other forensic testing of evidence from the crime. On 25 April the state Supreme Court denied this request in a 5-4 decision. The majority concluded that the jury had been presented with “conclusive, overwhelming evidence of guilt”. The four judges in the minority said that the request for testing should be granted.

Amnesty are calling on the Mississippi Governor to grant clemency for Manning, and to allow the DNA testing to go ahead.

When you contact the Governor, you should mention:

  • That you acknowledge the seriousness of the crime for which Wilie Manning was sentenced to death
  • That you're heartened by reports of a stay of execution
  • That given the stay, the state should stop the execution and grant clemency
  • That the state should allow DNA testing to happen

Innocent and on death row – all too common

Exoneration from US death rows happens all too often – in fact 142 times since 1976 and counting. That means 142 people who have spent years, sometimes decades on death row are found innocent and released. DNA evidence which proves innocence is sometimes the primary factor in exoneration. And this is the very thing at stake here - as well as a man's life, of course. 

Allegations of racial bias

And it’s not just this apparent refusal to test DNA evidence which is of concern in this case. There is also the issue of the use of racially motivated tactics being used during the selection of the jury.  Put simply, Manning is black, his murder victims were white. The original pool for his jury consisted of 85 people, 28 of whom were black - about one in three of the available jurors. Of the 12 people who were eventually selected, only two - one in six - were black.

Manning’s lawyers argue that six would-be jurors were dismissed for reasons that were not ‘race neutral’. For example, the prosecutor has said that he dismissed three of them because they read “liberal publications”. Is this really a justification for excluding someone from a capital jury? Apparently it is in Mississippi. Despite that, a federal judge has ruled that it has not been proven that the prosecutor’s use of summary dismissals of prospective black jurors was racially motivated. 

Join our call for clemency.

Don't forget to mention:

  • That you acknowledge the seriousness of the crime for which Wilie Manning was sentenced to death
  • That you're heartened by reports of a stay of execution
  • That given the stay, the state should stop the execution and grant clemency
  • That the state should allow DNA testing to happen
About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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2 comments

Let Willie Manning's pleas be heard!

Lotus White 5 years ago

Please give Willie Manning the chance of DNA tests, which could prove his guilt or innocence.
The US will gain the respect of the world if this happens.

liznicolay 5 years ago