Manning granted stay of execution due to ‘flawed’ hair analysis

Willie Jerome Manning (Photo courtesy of MDOC)

By Monica Land

PARCHMAN –  A death row inmate convicted of killing two college students in December 1992 has been issued a stay of execution after his attorneys raised doubts as to what they call ‘new evidence.’

Willie Jerome “Fly” Manning had been scheduled to die by lethal injection on Tuesday, May 7 at 6 p.m. But just before 2 p.m., Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner (MDOC) Christopher Epps told a room of people waiting to witness the execution that Manning had been granted a stay by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Willie Jerome Manning (Photo courtesy of MDOC)

Manning, 44, was convicted for the brutal murders of Mississippi State University Students Tiffany Miller and Jon Steckler in Oktibbeha County.

In a split decision – eight to one – the court decided to grant Manning the stay because testimony about a hair sample that linked Manning to the scene of crime may have been flawed.

The FBI examiner in Manning’s case testified that the hairs analyzed belonged to a black person. That testimony was used as evidence to argue that Manning was guilty. No other physical evidence reportedly linked Manning to the crime scene other than the FBI’s hair expert testimony.

Mississippi’s attorney general Jim Hood has called this attempt by Manning’s attorneys a “delay tactic.”

“Out of an abundance of caution, our Court stayed the sentence until it had time to review this flurry of last minute filings,” Hood said in a statement. “After having an opportunity to consider this new evidence, the senior attorneys in this office believe our Court will dissolve the stay and the sentence will be carried out.  If, however, our Court orders that these items be retested, then we will carry out that order.”

Manning was indicted during the July 1994 term of the Circuit Court of Oktibbeha County in a two count indictment: Count 1 for the capital murder of Jon Steckler in the commission of a robbery and Count 2 for the capital murder of Tiffany Miller in the commission of a robbery. Manning was convicted of both counts of capital murder. The jury returned two sentences of death by lethal injection.

During the early morning hours of Dec. 11, 1992, Tiffany Miller and Jon Steckler were both shot to death in Oktibbeha County, Mississippi. Tiffany and Jon were dating and were students at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Mississippi. They were last seen alive leaving Jon’s fraternity house between 12:50 and 1:00 a.m. on Dec. 11, 1992.

Jon did not own a car, but Tiffany drove a Toyota MR2. Tiffany lived off campus at University Hills Trailer Park.

Jon Steckler was discovered lying in the right side of Pat Station Road by a motorist approximately 2:15 a.m. that same day. Law enforcement arrived on the scene at approximately 2:33 a.m. Jon still had a pulse and the deputy called for an ambulance. The deputy saw drag marks through the gravel road up into the woods on the side of the road and discovered Tiffany’s body. Tiffany had been shot twice in the face at close range, in the left mid-forehead and around the mouth going through the lips.

She had also been raped.

Jon was shot once in the back of the head, and had other injuries consistent with being run over by a car at low speed.

Manning was found guilty on both counts of capital murder on Nov. 7, 1994. Following a sentencing hearing, the jury returned a death verdict on Nov. 8, 1994. On Count I, the capital murder of Jon Steckler, the jury found as aggravating circumstances that the murder was committed during a robbery and kidnapping, and that it was especially heinous, atrocious, and cruel. On Count II, the capital murder of Tiffany Miller, the jury found that the murder occurred while Manning was engaged in a robbery, and that it was committed during a kidnapping.

Manning was also convicted of murdering 60-year-old Emmoline Jimmerson and her mother, 90-year-old Alberta Jordan who were found dead a month later in their Brooksville Gardens apartment in Starkville on Jan. 18, 1993.

Those convictions are currently on appeal.

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