Death Penalty

Execution is stayed for Miss. inmate in case raising questions about hair and DNA evidence

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Updated: The Mississippi Supreme Court has granted a stay of execution for Willie Jerome Manning, who was scheduled to die by lethal injection this evening for the murders of two college students.

The court said the execution should be delayed until it rules further, the Associated Press reports.

Last week the Mississippi Supreme Court had rejected Manning’s request for DNA tests that his lawyers said could prove him innocent. The court said there was enough evidence apart from DNA to support Manning’s conviction.

Today, the Mississippi Supreme Court granted a stay in response to a new request by the inmate’s lawyers, who cited a Justice Department admission about FBI evidence. The Washington Post, the New York Times Taking Note blog and the Associated Press covered the stay request.

The Justice Department told prosecutors and defense lawyers that hair match testimony by an FBI analyst “exceeded the limits of the science and was, therefore, invalid.” According to the DOJ, the FBI expert should have testified that hair found in the car of one of the victims had traits associated with African-Americans, rather than saying it came from an African-American. Manning is black and the victims were white.

The Justice Department looked at Manning’s case as part of a broader review of forensic hair examinations, spurred by a series of Washington Post articles. The FBI has offered to conduct DNA tests in the case.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said at a press conference on Monday that there is “overwhelming evidence of guilt” apart from the hair samples, according to the AP article.

Last week’s opinion by the Mississippi high court had cited testimony by Manning’s cousin and a cellmate that Manning confessed to the crime, and testimony that Manning had tried to sell items owned by the victims. Other evidence included expert testimony that bullets in a tree behind Manning’s house matched bullets recovered from the murder scene. A dissenter said the cellmate recanted his testimony and the cousin gave differing versions of his story.

Updated at 2:20 p.m. to report on stay issued on Tuesday.

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