By BRIAN HAWKINS
Circuit Court Judge Lee Howard has yet to rule in a post-conviction hearing for Willie Jerome Manning to determine whether prosecutors in his 1996 capital murder trial may have withheld evidence and presented false evidence and whether he was denied effective defense counsel.
The hearings, held this past week, were the result of a 2004 Mississippi Supreme Court ruling upholding Manning’s conviction in the Jan. 18, 1993 slayings of Emmoline Jimmerson and Alberta Jordan in the apartment the two elderly women shared at the Brookville Gardens complex.
Manning, who was also convicted in 1994 and given the death penalty for the December 1992 capital murders of Mississippi State students Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller, was sentenced to death in the deaths of Jimmerson and Jordan, who were found beaten and with their throats slashed.
Despite upholding Manning’s 1996 conviction, Supreme Court justices ordered a post-conviction relief hearing on the evidentiary matters primarily based on claims by Manning and his attorneys that testimony by Kevin Lucious, a principal prosecution witness authorities said overheard Manning discussing the women’s murders and who saw him enter their apartment the day.
In the hearings last week, Lucious, who has been in prison in St. Louis, Mo., for murder convictions there since the mid-1990s, formally recanted his testimony after earlier filing affidavits in which he said his statements given to authorities and his testimony at Manning’s 1996 trial was false and coerced by authorities amid fears he would be charged with the murders.
Lucious was initially interviewed by current Starkville Police Chief (then-Captain) David Lindley and Oktibbeha County Sheriff Dolph Bryan, on March 8, 1994, while incarcerated in the St. Louis prison.
During testimony in last week’s hearings, both Lindley and Bryan said they did not coerce any statements from Lucious.
“When we came to talk to him, he was real standoffish when they brought him in,” recalled Bryan of the interview during court testimony on Wednesday. “When the door closed, his demeanor changed radically and he was very polite and cooperative.”
However, six days earlier — on March 2, 1994 — Lindley, then the commander of the SPD Investigations Bureau, and Bryan had traveled to Beaumont, Texas, and interviewed Herbert “Bean-Eye” Ashford, who was jailed there on a federal drug charge
Ashford told Lindley and Bryan that, three weeks after the murders, he had seen and overheard Manning and Lucious outside his Brookville Gardens apartment talking about the murders.
Ashford also gave a statement — and later testified at Manning’s 1996 trial — that he had seen Manning in the breezeway outside the Jimmerson and Jordan’s apartment as “late as 6:15 to 6:30” that day.
Lindley said he and Bryan were led to question Ashford and Lucious after receiving a tip from an informant.
“We actually had been working a case for over a year and finally got some information that two different people had information relevant to the crime,” said Lindley on Saturday. “We followed up on those leads, and the information was consistent with other information we’d already developed.”
Statements taken from other witnesses later corroborated the statements taken by Ashford and Lucious, breaking the case, Lindley said.
“This was what ultimately brought the case to a conclusion,” said Lindley.
Manning was arrested in Jimmerson and Jordan’s deaths after being indicted by the Oktibbeha County Grand Jury on capital murder charges in July 2004. By that time, Manning was facing trial in the slayings of Steckler and Miller, which were committed about six weeks prior to those of the elderly women.