JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled that a death row inmate will not be able to seek additional DNA evidence from crime scene evidence from the shooting deaths of two college students nearly 30 years

Willie Jerome Manning, now 54, remains at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman. He was convicted in 1994 of two counts of capital murder in the December 1992 murders of Mississippi State University students Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller in Oktibbeha County.

In 2013, shortly before Manning was scheduled to be executed, the US Justice Department said there were errors in FBI agents’ testimony about ballistics evidence and hair analysis in the case. Manning’s attorneys asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to stop the lethal injection, and the justices voted 8-1 to delay the execution and allow evidence to be tested.

Manning’s attorneys said they hoped the DNA evidence would exonerate their client, who has maintained his innocence. In 2014, they sent a rape kit, nail scrapings and other items to a lab. One of the attorneys, Rob Mink of Jackson, said the point of the test was to answer whether any DNA was attributable to Manning.

In Thursday’s ruling, a majority of state Supreme Court justices wrote that Manning received “allegedly inconclusive results” after six years of fingerprint analysis and DNA evidence.

Manning’s attorneys asked an Oktibbeha County circuit judge for permission to send items to a more specialized lab. The judge denied that request, and on Thursday a majority of the justices agreed with the judge’s ruling.

“Had additional evidence been granted and another individual’s DNA profile discovered from crime scene evidence, it has not been shown that it would change the outcome of Manning’s case,” Judge Robert Chamberlin wrote for the majority. .

Mink told The Associated Press on Friday that he is disappointed with the ruling.

“We are considering at this time what options you have for additional relief,” Mink said.

The ruling noted that during the trial, Manning’s cousin testified that Manning confessed to shooting the two students. The bodies of Steckler and Miller were found in rural Oktibbeha County and Miller’s car was missing. The car was found the next morning. Prosecutors said Manning was arrested after he tried to sell items belonging to the victims.

Justices Leslie King and Jim Kitchens dissented from Thursday’s majority ruling. King wrote that any potential harm in waiting for additional DNA evidence at a specialized laboratory “is surely minimal considering that Manning has been sentenced to death.”

Manning is black and Steckler and Miller were white. During Manning’s trial, an FBI agent testified that some of the hair found at the crime scene was “from a black individual,” but that didn’t mean the hair came from Manning. In closing arguments, a prosecutor cited the hair fragments “as a way of implicating Manning because he was a member of the African-American race,” King, the only black justice currently on the Mississippi Supreme Court, wrote.

A 2013 letter from the FBI said the agent’s 1994 testimony included information about DNA evidence from the hair that contradicted what was known about such evidence nine years later, Mink said.


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