The State of Mississippi has denied an inmate on death row the opportunity to be exonerated through DNA testing, a procedure that is almost always followed nowadays for prisoners facing capital punishment.
Willie Jerome Manning was convicted of killing two college students in 1992, but believes DNA evidence will now set him free. In a 5-to-4 ruling, the Mississippi Supreme Court found that the evidence against Manning "was so strong that the findings of DNA tests would not make a difference."
Manning's lawyers are now appealing to the governor to order the DNA test, or at least halt the execution, which is scheduled for this Tuesday.
“Today I think it’s become increasingly rare not to go through the whole bank of tests because of what’s at stake,” Richard Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told the Times.
"Any time there is legitimate, exculpatory evidence, capable of DNA testing, the state is prepared to conduct testing," Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood (pictured) said in a statement released Friday. "However when the defense waits until the 11th hour to raise such claims, which could not possibly exonerate their client, courts are loathe to be subjected to these types of dilatory defense tactics."
The prosecution's case against Manning rests on circumstantial evidence, none of which definitively puts Manning at the scene of the crime. One of the pieces of evidence used to convict Manning was that the hair of an African-American was found at the scene of the crime. Manning is black, and the victims are white.
Mississippi district attorney Forest Allgood, who prosecuted Manning, has already had two of his cases overturned by DNA testing. One of those cases involved a death row inmate. He dismissed the push for DNA testing as a stalling tactic.
UPDATE: Manning was granted a stay of execution only hours before he was to be put to death. The Department of Justice put pressure on the State Supreme Court to halt the execution until further investigation, like a DNA test, could be done.