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Is Miss. About to 'Lynch' an Innocent Man?

Willie Jerome Manning, convicted of the 1992 murders of two Mississippi State students, is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday May 7.

Manning has always said he did not commit the crime; in fact, he says he was at a club on the night of the murders. For years, he's been trying to convince the state to test DNA from the crime scene. As gruesome as the murders were, there should be lots of biological material to test. One of the victims, Tiffany Miller, was shot twice in the face at close range. One leg was out of her pants and underwear, and her shirt was pulled up. Her boyfriend John Steckler's body had abrasions that occurred before he died, and he was shot once in the back of the head. A set of car tracks had gone through the puddles of blood and over Steckler's body.

Already the Mississippi State Supreme Court has denied Manning's request to have DNA tests done that were unavailable in the early 90s. Now, Manning's attorneys have produced information that shows the Federal Bureau of Investigation erred in its testimony in Manning's case. In a letter to Oktibbeha County District Attorney Forrest Allgood, who prosecuted the case, U.S. Justice Department officials state "that testimony containing erroneous statements regarding microscopic hair comparison analysis was used" in Manning's case.

The letter goes on to say that information the FBI presented in its testimony "exceeded the limits of science, and was, therefore, invalid." The FBI offered to perform the mitochondrial DNA testing, and requested Allgood's office respond by May 6 -- the day before Manning is to be put to death.

It's unclear whether Allgood will be receptive. One of the issues Manning raised in his appeal is that Allgood illegally kept African Americans off Manning's jury by dismissing potential jurors who said they read African American magazines for reading liberal publications. David Voisin, Manning's attorney, said if approved the testing could take several weeks depending on which lab is used.

This afternoon at the Capitol, death-penalty opponents and Manning supporters called on Gov. Phil Bryant to stop the execution. The Mississippi Innocence Project field a brief in support of Manning this week. Kennedy Brewer, who was freed in 2008 with DNA tests after being convicted and sentenced to death for killing his girlfriend's young daughter, also wrote Bryant asking to give Manning the same opportunity to clear his name that Kennedy received.

Sister Maati, of Our Community Against Racism, invoked this year's 50th anniversary of Medgar Evers' assassination and said allowing Manning's execution take place, considering the discriminatory fashion in which his lawyers say the DA picked his jurors, would demonstrate that Mississippi has not moved beyond its legacy of injustice.

"Mississippi, prove that institutional racism is no longer a part of your southern heritage, or admit that the execution of Willie Manning is yet another Mississippi lynching," Sister Maati said this afternoon.

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