Beyond A Reasonable Doubt: The Willie Manning Execution

Beyond a reasonable doubt


Breaking News: Mississippi Supreme Court Grants Manning Indefinite Stay Just Hours Before Scheduled Execution.

Beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s a fairly simple phrase, one that carries a hefty weight on its shoulders. But where is the line in the sand that determines where “I’m not really sure” ends and certainty begins?

First of all, to determine a verdict of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, a jury must begin the process by presuming the accused is innocent of the charges against him. Then, it is the duty of the prosecutor to establish each element charged. Next, the prosecutor must convince a judge or jury that each fact/issue must be decided in a certain way. Basically, what this means is that when all is said and done, there is no wiggle room to say, “Well, it is possible that this guy is telling the truth and didn’t commit the crime. After all, he was seen in church chatting with the preacher at the time the murder took place. And, the church is 1,000 miles away from the scene of the crime. Oh, the fingerprints found on the murder weapon weren’t his, nor was it his DNA on the victim’s body.”

That’s some serious wiggle room that would leave doubt on anyone’s mind, but not all uncertainty is that easy to spot.

Willie Manning

So let’s apply the “wiggle room” standard to the present-day case of Willie Manning, the convicted murderer who’s scheduled for execution tomorrow in Mississippi. Sure, there was some incriminating evidence presented at Manning’s 1994 trial, but there was also Manning’s steadfast denial of committing the crime, allegations that the prosecutor lied to the jury, witness statements that have since been changed (one witness identified two other men as the perpetrators before settling on Manning as his 3rd choice, and a jailhouse informant who has since changed his story), and a jury selection process that leaned heavily toward “white only” jury members (Manning is black and the two victims were white).

Some potential African American jury members were excluded for the simple reason that they read and enjoyed “black magazines.” Oh, and there’s the little matter of DNA found at the scene—a key piece of evidence that has never been tested.

Since his conviction and sentence of death, Manning’s attorneys have repeatedly requested DNA testing of the rape kit, fingernail scrapings, and hairs, but have been denied because it’s “too late” in the process to do so. In fact, the Mississippi Supreme Court, in a 5-4 April 2013 decision, denied the DNA testing, stating that other evidence was introduced that led to the guilty verdict, and that DNA testing would not preclude his participation in the crime(s), even though no physical evidence was ever presented that linked Manning to the murders.

So, unless Manning is saved by the Mississippi governor or U.S. Supreme Court, he’ll be put to death tomorrow with a large chunk of reasonable doubt hanging over the execution chamber—DNA found at the crime scene.

I’m not saying Manning is innocent and/or shouldn’t be executed, because I don’t know all the facts in the case. What I am saying, however, is that I am in favor of cleaning up all loose ends…you know, the things that could possibly identify a real perpetrator, if there is one other than the defendant.

Running a simple DNA test (one of those loose ends) is a small thing compared to possibly executing an innocent man or woman. And, “too much time has passed” should never be a reason to deny a DNA test, especially when the results of the test could point to an entirely different person, and setting free one who’s totally innocent of the charges against him.

Besides, the burden is on the government to prove guilt, not the defendant to prove his innocence. Therefore, I believe, if the evidence is available it should be a mandatory requirement to have it tested. After all, we’re talking about a human life, not some inanimate object.

You know, I’m thinking there should be some sort standard set…a rule…a guideline…or…oh yeah, I almost forgot…we do have a standard that’s already set in stone—guilt must be proven Beyond A Reasonable Doubt.

So why not do it in every single case? In addition, it should be a requirement that those test results be introduced as evidence in court proceedings, regardless of the findings.

*     *     *

* Since 1973, over 140 people have been exonerated and released from death row in the U.S. In that same period of time, over 1,200 inmates have been executed.

Jerry Givens, a former executioner for the Commonwealth of Virginia—the man who executed the death row inmate I saw put to death—best put it into perspective when he said, “If I execute an innocent person, I’m no better than the people on death row.”

Givens, after executing 62 people, now strongly opposes the death penalty.

*     *     *

Here’s a copy of the 8-1 last hour stay and lone dissenting opinion.

60367803 v1 Order Granting Stay


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28 replies
  1. Pat Brown
    Pat Brown says:

    I don’t entirely reject the execution of certain murderers, but it should only be done when there is no reasonable doubt — and every effort should be made to ensure that ALL evidence is tested and put through rigorous testing. It’s unconscionable that anyone would be put to death when there’s doubt.

    I hate to say it, but in most of the cases I hear about where the courts reject looking at death penalty cases again, it’s almost always a black man being put to death. And if racism isn’t taken into account in cases like that, then justice isn’t being served. To put even a single person to death when the case is not rock solid is a crime in itself.

  2. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Greg, I imagine Manning will be executed for the first pair of murders long before the appeals for the second killings ever make their way through the courts.

  3. Greg
    Greg says:

    I’ve read that they want to test a hair found in the victims car. If it is not his I do not see how that in anyway puts doubt on his conviction. This is however the first time reading that a rape kit existed.
    Although, it will not affect the second death penalty he recieved for the second double murder of a 90 year old woman and her 60 year old daughter about 5 weeks after the murder of the two college students.

  4. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Jeff, it wasn’t my intention to bring religion into this conversation, but when someone did I felt it was a necessary response to the question.

    By the way, you don’t have to be religious to have morals and to know what’s right for you and how you feel about your fellow man.

  5. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it, as I believe it’s wrong on many levels, but I do believe in the death penalty in certain rare cases. (I’m also not religious, so factor my response in how you see fit.)

  6. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    K – I must have missed something, because I don’t believe anyone on this site has mentioned religion in any of the comments. So I’m not sure where you’re coming from with your comments. However, since you brought it up, wouldn’t the 6th Commandment also apply to the state executioner? Or is it written somewhere that humans can pick and choose which Commandment to obey and when?

    In addition, is it also written that we have the authority to operate on the basis of Lex Talionis? According to The Bible (remember, you brought this up, not me) Jesus says, “No,” that we should turn the other cheek.

    Matthew 5:38-42 reads:

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.”

    Since church and state are separate, legally, none of this applies to the situation at hand. So I guess we are all at the mercy of the big boys – lawyers, politicians, and Walmart.

  7. k. kornegay
    k. kornegay says:

    It’s amazing how people are so religious with God this and God that. Doesn’t every book of God says “Thou shall not kill.”? What ever happened to that commandments?

  8. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Please don’t misunderstand my comments. I believe Manning is guilty as charged (this is my opinion based on the little I know about the case), but I also believe all physical evidence should be tested if there’s a remote chance that it could prove a man’s innocence. If the evidence show’s he’s guilty, then so be it. And, with definite proof of guilt, as a judge, jury member, prosecutor, police officer, my mind would be clear of the guilt associated with the “what if’s.”

    Actually, in Manning’s case, if the test doesn’t prove anything either way, then I’d still be reluctant to support an execution. I say this because there’d still be a slight doubt, especially in light of the FBI’s new statements regarding faulty information about the hair samples. Remember, it’s “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

    I’ll also say this, and again it’s my opinion and nothing more, but I am not a fan of the death penalty. I believe a person will suffer much more by living their entire life in a concrete cage. I’ve witnessed an execution via electric chair and death comes quickly. By the way, death via electric chair does not appear to be painless, nor is it the most humane thing to inflict on another human. It’s gruesome, and I’d rank it in a category with stoning someone to death.

  9. SZ
    SZ says:

    I so agree with Ethan. Could not have said it better. I am also against it Economically
    So glad Manning got his stay

  10. someoneinnorthms
    someoneinnorthms says:

    I know the lawyers who worked this case on the trial level. Good lawyers. And, from what I know of their work, they did a good job on this case.

    The Boston Bomber should get his fair trial then given access to his virgins. That case is vastly different than the Manning case. Vastly.

  11. ethan
    ethan says:

    i dont know why people seem to think that the death penality is a best way to punish a guilty person. if anything its a way out of the hell they have to live in everyday, last time i checked prison wasnt quit the four sessions a real punishment for someone who is GUILTY is to ler them live out the rest of their life in prison cause that is a death sentece but atleast they will die by natural causes and not by the hand of another man… you can have a death sentece without strapping soneone to a chair or table and killing them with your own hands there for there is no real need for a DEATH SENTENCE

  12. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    I’m not disagreeing at all, Jack. I just believe that all evidence, including DNA evidence, should be examined. Then there’s no room for doubt by anyone on either side of the aisle.

    Although, possession of the victims’ property alone is not proof of murder. A heck of a good circumstantial case, though. Well, the bullet ID is pretty strong evidence. I wasn’t aware of that information.

  13. Jack
    Jack says:

    There WAS ample evidence of Manning’s guilt introduced at his trial. He was in possession of a car owned by one of the victims, the pawning of items owned by the victims, ballistic evidence pulled from a tree on his property that matched the bullets used in the crime… while I have issues with the vetting process in the jury selection, I have to say that he’s guilty as hell.

  14. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Out of curiosity, Donna (everyone else too), how do you feel about the death penalty in the case of the Boston bomber? There’s no doubt that he committed the crime, killing four people and wounding over 200 more, and horribly maiming many of the survivors.

  15. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    I wonder how the victims’ families feel knowing their child’s killer could still be out there. Wouldn’t it be nice to erase all doubt… one way or the other?

    What a system. What a joke of a system.

  16. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Remember, Ray Krone was a guest on this blog just a few weeks ago, telling his story about serving a decade on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. He was eventually exonerated based on DNA evidence.

    Back when I worked as a detective in Virginia, the Commonwealth had a law, The 21 Day Rule, regarding the introduction of new evidence, including DNA. A defendant had a mere 21 days after sentencing to introduce any newly discovered evidence. If not, it could not be used even if it was a flashing red arrow pointing to an actual suspect who had “Yes, I Did It” tattooed on his forehead.

    Now, though, DNA evidence is an exception to the 21 Day Rule, and can be introduced even if discovered at a later time.

  17. SZ
    SZ says:

    I’m with you Lee. I find this just appalling.

    You recently posted some very interesting examples of those freed after years. DNA was a big factor.

    How they can justify this is just odd. Bad lawyers ? I hope he gets a “stay”. I agree they need to revisit everything they have.

  18. Bob Mueller
    Bob Mueller says:

    Given the number of exonerations, from prison in general to Death Row in particular, I can’t continue to support the death penalty. There’s too much of a risk that we’ll execute more innocent people.

    The Innocence Project has some eye-opening statistics. The exoneration count is now 300 people. In 49% of the cases, the actual perpetrator has been identified, and research suggests that over 130 violent crimes could have been prevented had the right person been identified first.

  19. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Well, there are mistakes in DNA testing too, but the process is far more reliable than witnesses, and it doesn’t change its mind either.

  20. Lynn
    Lynn says:

    One would think that the legal system would prefer DNA to witnesses: DNA is finite … witnesses make mistakes and get confused.

  21. G. Miki Hayden
    G. Miki Hayden says:

    In 2000, the (Republican) Illinois governor (George Ryan) suspended executions because he was afraid the standard hadn’t been met after the courts threw out the death sentences of 13 convicted men. Ryan commuted the death sentences of 167 condemnded men when he left office in 2003. Illinois no longer has the death sentence, which was abolished in 2011 under Governor Quinn.

    This case of Willie Manning is an indictment of the system. It’s outrageous.

  22. Coco
    Coco says:

    I do not oppose the death penalty, as long as guilt has been proven Beyond A Reasonable Doubt.
    In this particular case concerning Willie Manning, there are far too many variants. Hope they get the necessary DNA, and be done with it. “The truth never lies.”

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