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Groups seeking to halt execution in Mississippi

JACKSON, Miss. — Two organizations that help exonerate inmates using DNA evidence have asked the state Supreme Court to let them file briefs to support Willie Jerome Manning’s effort to avoid execution on May 7.

Attorneys for Manning asked the court Tuesday to stop the execution. They also said they will file a clemency petition with Gov. Phil Bryant.

Manning was handed two death sentences for the slayings of Mississippi State University students Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller, whose bodies were discovered in rural Oktibbeha County on Dec. 11, 1992. Each was shot to death, and Miller’s car was missing. The vehicle was found the next morning.

Prosecutors said Manning was arrested after he tried to sell some items belonging to the victims.

On Friday, Manning, now 44, asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its 5-4 denial of DNA testing that he argues will prove he is innocent.

The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the motions.

In their motion, the Mississippi Innocence Project and Innocence Project New Orleans said Manning’s appeal is “exactly the kind of case where DNA testing could prove innocence or guilt.”

“Just because it’s hard to imagine a scenario where DNA testing could exonerate Willie Manning, doesn’t mean there isn’t one,” the groups wrote.

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against Manning’s request for DNA testing. The majority said there was substantial evidence to convict Manning.

“Manning fails to demonstrate a reasonable probability that he would not have been convicted or would have received a lesser sentence if favorable results had been obtained through such forensic DNA testing at the time of the original prosecution,” the majority said.

Four other justices sided with Manning, saying the DNA testing, if favorable to Manning, would raise questions about his guilt.

In his motion to stay the execution, Manning said a delay would allow time to reconsider the issue both he and the two groups have raised and which the Supreme Court appeared deeply divided.