Four hours before he was set to be executed in Mississippi yesterday, Willie Manning was granted a temporary reprieve by the state Supreme Court, the New York Times reports. Manning, 44, was convicted in 1994 of the 1992 murders of two college students. Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller were found shot dead, and Manning was later discovered trying to sell items that were apparently connected to the murders. But the trial included scant forensic evidence, and the Justice Department last week started sending letters to officials involved in the case that stated some of the testimony of two FBI experts during the trial was "erroneous."
One of those experts had testified that bullets found in a tree—a former girlfriend testified that she had seen Manning shooting into the tree—were fired from the same gun that was used to commit the murders. But, the DOJ said in one letter, no firearms expert can say with absolute certainty whether "a specific gun fired a specific bullet to the exclusion of all other guns in the world." Other letters raised doubts about another expert's analysis of hair fragments. Now, defense lawyers want DNA tests conducted on a rape kit and other evidence from the crime scene. Legal experts say the DOJ's last-minute letters are "unprecedented," and the lone justice who dissented attacked the DOJ for intervening.