JACKSON, Mississippi — Lawyers for a Mississippi death row inmate told state Supreme Court justices Monday that he deserves a new trial because evidence that defense lawyers did not obtain the first time shows that a key state witness lied
Willie Jerome Manning is appealing an Oktibbeha County judge's denial of his post-conviction challenges. Manning came within hours of being put to death last year on separate charges before the state high court halted it.
Monday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments over the 1993 slayings of 90-year-old Emmoline Jimmerson and her daughter, 60-year-old Alberta Jordan. Police and prosecutors say the women were beaten and had their throats slashed. They were killed during a robbery attempt at their Starkville apartment.
Manning was convicted and sentenced to death in the case in 1996, but lawyers argued Monday that the conviction should be overturned because of questions about a witness who put Manning at the scene. Current lawyers also argued that either the state concealed evidence from Manning's original lawyers or the defense was too ineffective to find it.
"Not only was Mr. Manning denied a fair trial, but his case has all the characteristics of a wrongful conviction," said lawyer David Voisin.
The attorney general's office disputed the claims, saying the testimony should stand and the records wouldn't have affected the outcome.
Voisin zeroed in on the testimony given by Kevin Lucious, who said he lived in the Brookdale Gardens complex at the time and saw Manning approach the apartment door. Lucious also testified that Manning later twice discussed the killing with him. He has since recanted.
Voisin said notes from when police knocked on doors at the complex showed the apartment where Lucious claimed to live was vacant at the time of the shooting.
Special Assistant Attorney General Melanie Thomas said just because no records showed Lucious lived at Brookdale Gardens doesn't mean he wasn't living with someone else or squatting. Justice David Chandler noted that others testified that they saw Manning at the complex on the day of the killings.
Voisin said the police records, as well as a state crime lab report showing a bloody size 8 shoe print were improperly withheld. Manning's feet are size 11.
Thomas said defense lawyers didn't have the exact report of the shoe print at trial, but did discuss it in testimony.
Justice James Kitchens questioned what proof there is that the state suppressed the evidence, saying lawyers could have found the reports if they had tried. Voisin said that the lawyers should have been able to rely on prosecutors to turn over evidence, or alternately said justices should rule the trial team had been ineffective.
In May 2013, Manning had been set for lethal injection in a separate case — the December 1992 slayings of Mississippi State University students Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller. The state Supreme Court blocked the execution hours before it was scheduled. Voisin said after the hearing that DNA test results are pending.
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