Manning’s lawyers asked Gov. Phil Bryant (R) for a stay. Bryant spokesman Mick Bullock said in a written statement Friday that the governor is reviewing the facts of the case.
Federal officials found Manning’s case as part of a broad review of the FBI’s handling of scientific evidence in thousands of violent crimes in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Justice Department announced last summer an effort to correct past errors in forensic hair examinations before 2000 — at least 21,000 cases — to determine whether agents exaggerated the significance of purported hair “matches” in lab reports or trial testimony.
The reviews were prompted by a series of articles in The Washington Post that found that the Justice Department ignored warnings about widespread problems in cases that relied on hair identification.
Manning’s case presents a difficult first test of the Justice Department review. Last week, the Mississippi Supreme Court denied a request by Manning’s lawyers to reexamine a rape kit, fingernail scrapings, hairs and fingerprint evidence in the case, ruling narrowly that even if Manning’s DNA was absent, that would not be enough to overturn his 1994 conviction.
“Our examination anew of the record reveals that conclusive, overwhelming evidence of guilt was presented to the jury,” Presiding Justice Michael K. Randolph wrote for the 5 to 4 majority.
Oktibbeha County District Attorney Forrest R. Allgood said Manning was separately convicted and sentenced to death for killing two elderly women in their apartment in 1993 in Starkville, Miss. He questioned the defense tactics and said any reconsideration of the students’ case should include consultation with the victims’ families.
“The bottom line is when you start looking at these things, there’s always something else you can do and it never ends,” Allgood said.
Manning defense attorney David Voisin said that both sets of convictions are on appeal and that new testing could identify the students’ actual attacker. While investigators could not detect biological evidence of rape two decades ago, the female victim was found with her pants and underwear pulled down, and DNA testing is far more sensitive today and could potentially identify a culprit, he said.
“I commend the FBI for being diligent, reviewing their prior work, and recognizing the need for testing,” Voisin said. “We’re hoping that the governor will do the same thing.”
Legal experts also praised federal authorities for undertaking the fuller review and urged Mississippi officials to press forward with the testing. “There is really no good reason not to allow DNA testing, particularly in capital cases,” said Myrna Raeder, a Southwestern University Law School professor and co-chair of the innocence committee of the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section. “We’re still not completely to the point where we’re willing to recognize that science may and should overrule some of our judicial rules that may make sense in terms of finality but make no sense in terms of determining innocence.”