After 31 years, still no justice for MSU students
Published 11:00 am Thursday, December 14, 2023
By Sid Salter
At least once a week, I walk by on-campus memorial stones commemorating the senseless murders of Mississippi State University students Jon Stephen Steckler and Pamela Tiffany Miller on the night of Dec. 11, 1992.
Jon’s parents and both sets of grandparents have passed away as has Tiffany’s mother and her parents. Left to mourn them are their siblings and a few other relatives, but their names and memories endure on the campus they loved.
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The pair had been on a date. According to trial transcripts, the young couple was last seen alive in the early morning hours of Dec. 11, 1992, outside of Steckler’s fraternity house near the campus. The couple left the house around 1 a.m. in Miller’s car. At 2:15 a.m., Steckler’s body was discovered in the right-hand lane of a county road.
Near his body, authorities found a gold token, three shell casings, and a projectile. Steckler’s injuries were consistent with having been run over by a car at a low speed. Miller’s body was discovered in the nearby woods and investigators believe she had been sexually assaulted. She had been shot twice in the face.
Miller’s car was discovered in front of an apartment building nearby. On the pavement near the driver’s side door, coins were found as well as a ring identified as belonging to Miller, all about 100 yards away from Miller’s residence. In 1994, Willie Jerome “Fly” Manning of Starkville was convicted of the capital murders of Steckler and Miller in a jury trial after one hour of deliberations.
Manning was sentenced to death for the murders. The most damning evidence against Manning was his alleged attempts to sell certain items identified as belonging to his victims.
In the period between the time Steckler and Miller were killed and when Manning went to trial and was convicted for their murders, he was accused of a second grisly murder. Less than six weeks after the students were killed – on the evening of Jan. 18, 1993 – elderly mother and daughter Emmoline Jimmerson and Alberta Jordan were found dead in their Brooksville Gardens apartment. Police found no signs of forced entry, and the apartment was not ransacked. Both women had been beaten about the head, and their throats were slashed.
Manning was convicted and sentenced to death in a separate trial for the 1993 murders of Jimmerson and Jordan. But those charges were dropped in 2015 after a jailhouse informant recanted his testimony and the court discovered that exculpatory evidence had been withheld by investigators. Manning received an exoneration on those charges.
In 2013, Manning came perilously close to meeting the executioner as punishment for the murders of Steckler and Miller. Manning got an 11th-hour stay of execution on an 8-1 decision by the state’s highest court after issues were raised by Manning’s attorneys challenging the testimony of FBI agents regarding ballistics and hair analysis used to convict him in the Steckler-Miller murders.
In November, Republican Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch filed a motion to dismiss a second-post conviction motion and set a date for Manning’s execution. On Dec. 1, the Mississippi Supreme Court temporarily suspended Fitch’s motion, ruling that the court must rule on Manning’s latest motion regarding a challenge to his conviction before an execution date can be set.
Former Starkville police chief David Lindley told The Columbus Dispatch newspaper in 2013 his recollections of Manning as someone in and out of trouble with the law since childhood. Manning’s criminal record goes back to the mid-1970s when he broke into a store in an attempt to steal a motorcycle. “Fly” was six years old at the time.
Like a bad penny, “Fly” Manning continues to turn up in the appellate courts on the Steckler-Miller murders. But in 2013, Democratic Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood called the evidence of Manning’s guilt “overwhelming.” So has GOP AG Fitch.
“Even if technologies were available to determine the source of the hair, to indicate someone other than Manning, it would not negate other evidence that shows his guilt. He is a violent person who committed these heinous murders,” Hood said.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.