Willie Manning was scheduled to be executed in Mississippi on Tuesday, May 7, 2013, despite pleas from his lawyers for time to conduct DNA testing of hair found in the clenched fists and on the clothes of the woman Manning was convicted of murdering. The hairs were not the victim’s and Manning’s lawyers thought that DNA testing could provide evidence of innocence by pointing to an alternative perpetrator. Last minute requests for a stay to permit testing were ignored by the courts until the FBI weighed in on the case.
Simultaneously, while lawyer’s battled to save Manning’s life, the Department of Justice was engaged in conducting a full internal review of all cases where FBI agents performed forensic hair analysis and subsequently testified in trials about the analysis. DOJ undertook the review because in too many cases, post-conviction DNA test results showed FBI agents testified inaccurately and unscientifically about hair comparison. DOJ identified Willie Manning’s case as one where the FBI agent provided false testimony at trial — testimony that was used by the prosecutor in closing to link Willie Manning to the crime scene. The FBI now admits that the agent’s testimony that the hair came from a member of the “black race” is scientifically invalid. The case was given priority because of the impending execution.
When the FBI position was brought to the attention of the Mississippi Supreme Court, the Court granted the request for a stay by a vote of 8 to1. The majority did not write an opinion. The dissent, in a rambling colloquy, faulted the FBI for working with the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers – even though the organizations were all joined in a search for scientific accuracy.
Read the decision here: Manning Stay
Did you know that post-conviction DNA testing statutes are far from uniform? Have you ever used CPL 440.30(1-a)? What was your experience?
Pace Law School Professor – an expert in the field of international law and its application in the U.S. courts – Thomas M. McDonnell shares his view on the debate of whether to impose the death penalty in the Boston bomber case. Where do you stand on the death penalty?
BY THOMAS M. McDONNELL
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston bomber, has been charged with using a weapon of mass destruction, a capital offense. Given the enormity of his crimes, many have called for the imposition of the death penalty. Below is the conclusion to an article, The Death Penalty: An Obstacle to the War on Terrorism?, I wrote in connection with imposing the death penalty on those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Some of the arguments therein likewise apply to Tsarnaev’s case.
The thundering weight of the crimes of September 11 inevitably demands the maximum punishment that our judicial system allows. If anyone deserves the death penalty, then those who planned and actively participated in the September 11 conspiracy do. The United States will almost certainly execute those, like Mohammed Shaikh Khalid, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and Abu Zubaydah, assuming, as expected, they are found responsible for the attacks. Yet as we enter the third year in the “war on terrorism,” the euphoria of the seemingly quick victory in the largely unilateral war against Iraq is beginning to give way to recognition that we need the United Nations, the help of our allies, and respect for the rule of law.
Similarly, the natural demand for retribution after a terrorist organization has committed mass murder and other heinous crimes needs to be tempered by the fact that carrying out the death penalty may strengthen the terrorists. Given the perceived and actual grievances that the Arab and the greater Islamic worlds have towards the West in general and the United States in particular, carrying out such executions will probably tend to inflame the Arab and Islamic worlds, increase their support of terrorist movements and thwart cooperation with our allies, almost all of whom have abolished the death penalty. In addition, assuming the evidence at trial fails to show that Zacarias Moussaoui directly participated in the conspiracy to carry out the September 11 attacks, executing him may be contrary to our current death penalty jurisprudence and would appear unjust to our allies and the Islamic world alike. Even if the evidence shows that Moussaoui directly participated in the September 11 conspiracy, executing him will, as the Kasi case so well illustrates, almost certainly make him the twentieth martyr for Muslims.
Because, however, we routinely carry out executions on individuals such as Paul Hill, the anti-abortion killer, who murdered two persons, a physician and his bodyguard, how can we not execute one who, at the very least, was actively involved in an organization that killed over three thousand innocent people? We should, however, learn from the mistakes and the successes of Great Britain in fighting the IRA, that executing politically motivated agents of terror is likely to spawn greater terrorism. Such restraint is a surer path towards isolating al Qaeda and its allies in the lands of the aggrieved and the repressed. The death penalty is a luxury that we can ill afford in this international struggle.