May 8, 2013 10:38:17 AM
Sarah Fowler - firstname.lastname@example.org
PARCHMAN -- The Mississippi State Supreme Court granted a stay of execution to Willie Jerome "Fly" Manning on Tuesday, four hours before he was scheduled to be executed at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.
Manning, 44, was convicted of the 1992 murders of Mississippi State students Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller.
Manning was convicted in 1992 of the murder of the two students. According to trial testimony, Manning was attempting to break into an automobile in front of the Sigma Chi fraternity house on the MSU campus on the night of Dec. 11, 1992 when Miller and Steckler walked up on him. Manning kidnapped the two and took them to Pat Station Road in rural Oktibbeha County where he shot Miller twice in the face at close range. Steckler was shot once at close range before being run over with a vehicle by Manning. Steckler was discovered alive by a passing motorist who notified authorities. He died shortly after.
Manning was convicted on two counts of capital murder in the commission of a robbery.
The Innocence Project has been working closely with Manning's attorney asking the Supreme Court for a stay of execution to perform a DNA test on a hair found in the vehicle involved in the kidnapping and murders. The FBI sent two letters to District Attorney Forrest Allgood regarding ballistics testing during the case and what they deemed "invalid expert testimony."
In an 8-1 vote, the Supreme Court voted for an indefinite stay.
Manning is also convicted of murdering a mother and daughter in their Brooksville Gardens home in 1993. He received the death penalty for those murders as well.
In the hours leading up to his scheduled execution, Manning was reported to be in good spirits, Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said during a media briefing Tuesday afternoon.
"He's talkative and his mood is upbeat," Epps said.
Epps also said Manning has denied committing the murders and is repeatedly asking for a DNA test.
Attorney General Jim Hood issued a statement Tuesday regarding the stay, which was announced at 1:45 p.m.
"I am sorry that the victims' families will have to continue to live this 20-plus year nightmare," Hood wrote. "Out of an abundance of caution, our Court stayed the sentence until it had time to review this flurry of last-minute filings. Yesterday evening our office filed a report with the Court, which I obtained from the district attorney's office around 6:00 yesterday afternoon. The report states that there was no serological evidence from the victims' fingernail scrapings or semen on the vaginal swabs from the rape test kit for a DNA test to identify. 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."
Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch. Follow her on Twitter @FowlerSarah