In face of execution, Manning maintains innocence

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Updated: 5/08/2013 1:29 pm
PARCHMAN, Miss. (WTVA) -- Since April 26, a rapid-fire exchange of appeals and rulings involving Willie Jerome Manning have been flying back and forth in Jackson.

All the while, the countdown to his scheduled execution drew closer.

And as Tuesday began, the Mississippi Department of Corrections' execution timetable showed no signs of stopping.

"Every time we conduct an execution, I go down and spend time with the inmate who's condemned," MDOC Commissioner Chris Epps said.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Manning was scheduled to die by lethal injection for the 1992 murders of Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller. Both were Mississippi State students.

That day, Epps said Manning had refused a spiritual advisor, and didn't want his family to be there during the execution.

His demeanor seemed upbeat, but determined.

"Obviously he denied the crimes, and I asked him if he committed the crimes," Epps said. "And he denied them. And he was reluctant to talk about them."

Not long after that meeting, Epps learned from Attorney General Jim Hood that Manning's fate wouldn't be decided Tuesday.

That means for now, fewer employees would be needed at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, and the facility would no longer be under a lockdown.

That added security -- standard procedure before and during an execution -- comes at a price, though.

"The cost is around $14,000, and I say that because you obviously can't put a cost on a person's life, but I say that to say that now what will happen now we'll resume back to normal operation," Epps said.

Some may criticize the system because after 20 years, Manning's sentence hasn't been carried out. Still, Epps insists Mississippi is making strides.

"I recall when we had to close Unit 17 back in the late 80s and we opened up Unit 32 and had to move to death row because [Unit] 17 only housed 56 inmates, and we've been as high as 68," he said.

Now 48 inmates remain on death row.

Whether that number drops to 47 isn't Epps' call.

The stay of execution -- ordered by the Mississippi Supreme Court just hours before Manning was scheduled to die -- will remain in place until the court decides otherwise.

The order from the court gave no specific timetable, except to say "until further notice."

Epps said in the last 30 years, only three inmates have had stays granted on execution day. 
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