Mississippi is set to execute a man Tuesday night without testing available DNA evidence from a hair sample in his case. ThinkProgress reported last week that a 5-4 court upheld the decision not to test the evidence, in spite of a prosecutor’s inconclusive logic linking the hair sample to Willie Jerome Manning simply because they were both deemed African American. Now, as the Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen reports, the Department of Justice has intervened to point out that even prosecutors’ conclusion that the hair sample was African American was unscientific and invalid. A letter Manning’s lawyers filed in court reads:
We have determined that the microscopic hair comparison analysis testimony or laboratory report presented in this case included additional statements that exceeded the limits of science and was, therefore, invalid. In response to inquiries regarding whether the errors identified in the notification letter had any bearing on the examiner’s opinion regarding the racial classification of the hair, the FBI states the following: The scientific analysis of hair evidence permits an examiner to offer an opinion that a questioned hair possesses certain traits that are associated with a particular racial group. However, since a statistical probability cannot be determined for classification of hair into a particular racial group, it would be error for an examiner to testify that he can determine that the questioned hairs were from an individual of a particular racial group. Thus, an examiner cannot testify with any statement of probability whether the hair is from a particular racial group, but can testify that a hair exhibits traits associated with a particular racial group.
By not testing available DNA evidence using new scientific techniques that were not available at the time of his 1994 trial, Mississippi is choosing to ignore readily available scientific evidence in favor of flawed conclusions based on shaky racially charged testimony, as well as jailhouse informant testimony, which studies have found is particularly susceptible to manipulation. But as Cohen points out, there’s something else the DNA would do. If it is not Bryant’s, it is likely somebody else’s and that person will be identified only by testing the hair sample. Failure to do so reflects the deep institutional government interest in preserving the integrity of completed convictions, even at the expense of finding a different dangerous perpetrator or sparing an innocent person’s life. Manning is still awaiting word on whether Gov. Phil Bryant will grant clemency, and a court could still respond to the most recent motions by Manning’s lawyers.
The FBI found another significant error in Manning’s case, according to new filings by his lawyer. During trial, there was incorrect testimony that linked bullets found in a tree near Manning’s house to bullets found in the victim, the Associated Press reports. Manning is still scheduled to be executed tonight.