Death row inmate continues pursuit of new trial

December 8, 2012 7:03:23 PM



JACKSON -- A death row inmate convicted of killing two university students in 1992 is continuing his quest to convince a court he deserves a new trial. 


Willie Jerome Manning is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to give him a new trial, saying that his defense was ineffective and that black residents were inappropriately excluded from his Oktibbeha County jury. Manning is black. 


The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals turned Manning down in July. The court said Manning filed his post-conviction claim too late to be heard in state courts. 


The office of Attorney General Jim Hood will ask to have an execution date set if the U.S. Supreme Court denies the request, said Hood spokeswoman Jan Schaefer.  


The 5th Circuit said the judgment against Manning became final on April 5, 1999, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal. 


In a post-conviction petition, an inmate argues he has found new evidence -- or a possible constitutional issue -- that could persuade a court to order a new trial.  


The 5th Circuit said that under state law, Manning had until April 5, 2000, to file such a claim. Court records show Manning did not file anything with the Mississippi Supreme Court until Oct. 8, 2001. 


Manning, now 44, received two death sentences for the 1992 slayings of two Mississippi State University students, Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller.  


On Dec. 11, 1992, the bodies of Miller and Steckler were discovered in rural Oktibbeha County. Both students had been shot to death, and Miller's car was missing. The vehicle was found the next morning.  


Prosecutors said Manning was arrested after he attempted to sell certain items belonging to the victims.  


His conviction was upheld by the Mississippi Supreme Court, which also denied Manning's post-conviction petition.  


In 2005, Manning filed a petition in U.S. District Court asking that the state court be ordered to hear his post-conviction claims. The judge found Manning did not file the post-conviction petition by the deadline set by law, but said the inmate could appeal the issues of ineffective counsel and the jury to the 5th Circuit. 


However, the 5th Circuit panel declined to address those issues.