Manning v. Epps, Civil Action No.: 1:05CV256-WAP.

Decision Date02 March 2010
Docket NumberCivil Action No.: 1:05CV256-WAP.
Citation695 F. Supp.2d 323
PartiesWillie Jerome MANNING, Petitioner v. Christopher EPPS, et al., Respondents.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Mississippi

David P. Voisin, David Paul Voisin, PLLC, Robert S. Mink, Wyatt Tarrant & Combs, LLP, Jackson, MS, for Petitioner.

Marvin L. White, Jr., Mississippi Attorney General's Office, Jackson, MS, for Respondents.


W. ALLEN PEPPER, JR., District Judge.

Willie Jerome Manning, sentenced to death on two counts of capital murder by the Circuit Court of Oktibbeha County, has petitioned the Court for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, asserting that his convictions and sentences are unconstitutional. Having considered the alleged circumstances, the cited authorities, and the record in this matter, the Court DENIES the application for the reasons set forth below.

Facts & Procedural History

In July of 1994, the Circuit Court of Oktibbeha County, Mississippi, returned a two-count indictment against Petitioner for the capital murders of Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller while Petitioner was engaged in the commission of a robbery. Mississippi State University students Tiffany Miller and Jon Steckler were murdered in Oktibbeha County, Mississippi, on December 11, 1992. The couple was last seen alive leaving Jon's fraternity house between 12:50 a.m. and 1:00 a.m. on December 11, 1992, in Miller's two-seater Toyota MR2 sports car. At approximately 2:15 a.m. that morning, Jon Steckler was discovered lying in the right-hand lane of Pat Station Road. Deputy Sheriff Robert Elmore arrived on the scene approximately seventeen minutes later, and he discovered that Jon was still alive. Deputy Elmore discovered Tiffany's body in nearby woods. She had been shot twice in the face at close range. A gold token, three shell casings, and a projectile were discovered near where Jon's body was found, and deputies discovered a set of car tracks that ran through puddles of blood. It was later determined that Jon's body bore extensive abrasions that occurred prior to his death, and he had other injuries that were consistent with his having been run over by a car at a low speed. Jon's wallet was found in his back pocket, but it did not contain any money.

Later in the morning of December 11, 1992, Tiffany's car was found parked in front of apartments on Old Mayhew Road. Hair and flesh were found on the underside of the car, and blood was found on and under the vehicle. Nearby on the pavement by the driver's side door, coins were found. Several more coins and a ring identified as belonging to Tiffany were found about a hundred yards from the apartment complex driveway and approximately the same distance from Tiffany's residence at University Hills Trailer Park.

At trial, witnesses presented testimony about the couple's actions on the night prior to the murders. Around 11:00 p.m. on the evening prior to the murders, John Wise, one of Jon's fraternity brothers and his roommate, had loaned his car keys to Jon so that Jon could retrieve something from Wise's car, which was parked outside the fraternity house. Approximately two and a half hours later, which would have been early in the morning of December 11, 1992, Wise went to his car to get something, and he noticed that the passenger side door of his car was unlocked. He testified that he retrieved the item from his car and locked the door. He stated that around 8:00 or 9:00 a.m., he went out to his car and discovered it had been burglarized, though there was no sign of forced entry to the vehicle. Wise reported that a portable CD player and adapter, a brown leather bomber jacket, a silver monogrammed huggie, and several dollars of change that Wise kept in the console were missing. Included in the missing change was a token from a Grenada, Mississippi, gas station. The only two places in the State that used this type of token were a Kentucky Fried Chicken store in Laurel and a Dutch Oil Company gas station in Grenada.

There was evidence presented at trial that Jon wore a Cathedral High School class ring, which was gold in color, and a watch with several clocks on its face. The jury heard evidence that Petitioner attempted to sell a class ring immediately after the murders, as well as a watch that matched the description of Jon's watch. Oktibbeha County Sheriff Dolph Bryan contacted Wise after hearing about the burglary, and Wise identified the coin found at the murder scene as being exactly like the token that was taken from his car. Sheriff Bryan then began to search for whomever burglarized Wise's car as the possible murderer. In April of 1993, the Starkville Fire Department found Wise's silver huggie while flushing out a hydrant on Industrial Park Road south of Starkville. This area is approximately five miles from where Petitioner lived with his mother. Petitioner, who was familiar to local law enforcement, became the primary suspect in the investigation.

Sheriff Bryan wanted to speak to Paula Hathorn, who lived on and off with Petitioner in the fall of 1992, to determine whether she had any information that would help the investigation. Paula and Petitioner lived at the home of Ruth Ann Bishop, Petitioner's mother, in late 1992. In April of 1993, Sheriff Bryan spoke with Hathorn, and he asked her if Petitioner had any leather jackets. Hathorn gave the sheriff a jacket that Petitioner had given to her, which was identified by Wise as being the one which was stolen out of his car the night it was burglarized. Hathorn also informed police that Petitioner used to target practice on a tree around his mother's house. A search warrant was obtained for Ruth Ann Bishop's home, and investigators recovered .380 projectiles and cartridges out of the tree described by Hathorn. It was later determined that the projectiles recovered during the investigation of the crime and the projectiles taken from the tree that Petitioner used for target practice were fired from the same weapon.

Hathorn testified that on December 9, 1992, Petitioner told Hathorn that he was going to Jackson, Mississippi. Hathorn testified he had a gun and some gloves with him at that time. When she next saw him on December 14, 1992, she stated Petitioner no longer had the gun but did bring several items into the house. One of the items was Wise's leather jacket, which Petitioner gave to Hathorn in late January or early February of 1993. Petitioner also had a CD player that he took to a business named Sound Reasoning and tried without success to sell there. Petitioner eventually sold the CD player to a man who later pawned it at Metro Pawn in Jackson, Mississippi. Metro Pawn recorded the serial number, which matched the serial number of the CD player stolen from Wise's car.

At trial, several witnesses placed Petitioner at the 2500 Club in Starkville, Mississippi, on the night of the murders, though no credible witness could place him there at the time of the murders. Frank Parker and Earl Jordan, both of whom were inmates at the Oktibbeha County Jail in May 1993 testified that Petitioner had made incriminating statements regarding the murder of the students. Petitioner was found guilty on both counts of capital murder on November 7, 1994, and Petitioner was subsequently found to be an habitual offender. Following a sentencing hearing, the jury returned a death verdict for the capital murder convictions on November 8, 1994. On Count I, the capital murder of Jon Steckler, the jury found as aggravating circumstances that the murder was committed during the commission of the crime of robbery, while engaged in the commission of the crime of kidnapping, and that it was especially heinous, atrocious, and cruel. On Count II, the capital murder of Tiffany Miller, the jury found that the murder occurred while Petitioner was engaged in the commission of a robbery, and that it was committed while engaged in the commission of a kidnapping. Petitioner was sentenced to death on both counts.

Petitioner's convictions and death sentences were affirmed on direct appeal. See Manning v. State, 726 So.2d 1152 (Miss.1998), cert. denied, Manning v. Mississippi, 526 U.S. 1056, (1999) ("Manning I"). Petitioner filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief in State court on February 2, 2001, almost a year and ten months following the Supreme Court's denial of certiorari. On October 8, 2001, Petitioner filed an application for leave to file a motion for post-conviction relief in the trial court, which was almost two and one half years after the denial of certiorari on direct appeal. Post-conviction relief was denied on March 9, 2006 in a substituted opinion. See Manning v. State, 929 So.2d 885 (Miss.2006) ("Manning II").1 Petitioner did not seek a writ of certiorari from the decision. Petitioner filed his federal habeas petition on October 12, 2005, prior to the completion of the State post-conviction process. Respondents moved to dismiss the petition for failure to comply with the time limitations under the AEDPA. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d). On December 28, 2006, 2006 WL 3827526, this Court denied Respondents' motion for summary judgment based on the statute of limitations, finding that equitable tolling should allow Petitioner an opportunity to present his claims.2

Applicable Standard

This petition is governed by the provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"). See Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 324-26, 117 S.Ct. 2059, 138 L.Ed.2d 481 (1997) (AEDPA applies to all federal habeas applications filed on or after April 24, 1996). Pursuant to the AEDPA's scope of review, habeas corpus relief cannot be granted in connection with any claim adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless that adjudication (1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly...

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3 cases
  • Watson v. Morris
    • United States
    • U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Northern District of Mississippi
    • August 1, 2011
    ...interpreted its law, the error must have "infused the trial with unfairness as to deny due process of law." Manning v. Epps, 695 F. Supp. 2d 323, 376 (N.D. Miss. 2009); (See Lisenba v. California, 314 U.S. 219, 228, 62 S.Ct. 280, 86 L.Ed. 166 (1941) (due process is denied when the court fai......
  • Manning v. State
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • April 25, 2013
    ...petitions are controlled by the provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). See Manning v. Epps, 695 F. Supp. 2d 323, 343 (N.D. Miss. 2009). Under the AEDPA, "relief cannot be granted in connection with any claim adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedi......
  • Williams v. State
    • United States
    • Mississippi Court of Appeals
    • January 31, 2023
    ...of a fact in issue, and (c) not based on scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge within the scope of Rule 702." Manning, 695 F.Supp.2d at 377. Rule 701 of Mississippi Rules of Evidence mirrors Rule 701 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. Manning, 695 F.Supp.2d at 377; see also H......

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