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Last-minute stay in Mississippi execution; Texas executes inmate

By Emily Lane

JACKSON, Mississippi (Reuters) - A Mississippi inmate due to be executed on Tuesday was granted a last-minute reprieve because of overstated evidence, while Texas executed a man convicted of killing another person during a robbery in 2003, authorities said.

The Mississippi state Supreme Court granted a stay of execution to Willie Jerome Manning, 44, after federal authorities said they had overstated the strength of hair and gun evidence in his trial for the killing of two college students.

Manning had been scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection for the 1992 murders, and his lawyers had asked for a delay in light of the revelations. The court did not give a reason for its 8-1 decision to grant the reprieve.

"I am very happy and very relieved (about) the stay," said Manning's attorney, David Voisin. "The order demonstrates that the court is taking our pleading seriously."

In Texas, Carroll Parr, 35, was put to death by lethal injection for pistol-whipping then killing a man in 2003 from whom he had purchased marijuana, the state Department of Criminal Justice said.

In Manning's case, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Department of Justice said in three letters this month to state officials that FBI examiners erred in their testimony about hair and ballistics evidence.

One expert overstated conclusions about a hair found in Miller's car by suggesting that it came from an African American, federal authorities said last week.

Manning is black and the two victims, Mississippi State University students Tiffany Miller, 22, and Jon Steckler, 19, were white. The hair sample was the only physical evidence linking Manning to the crime scene.

"We have determined that the microscopic hair comparison analysis testimony or laboratory report presented in this case included statements that exceeded the limits of science and was, therefore, invalid," federal authorities said.

BULLET UNCERTAINTY

In an additional letter this week, they said a firearms examiner testified that bullets retrieved from the victims' bodies and a tree outside Manning's house came from the same gun, when in fact such a conclusion could not be made with absolute certainty.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood accused Manning of waiting until the last minute to raise "this frivolous issue."

According to prosecutors, Manning crossed paths with Miller and Steckler when the couple unwittingly interrupted him burglarizing a car outside a fraternity house they were leaving in December 1992. Manning had a history of theft and other charges and had recently been paroled, prosecutors said.

Manning forced the couple into Miller's car, robbed them and shot them, prosecutors said. Their bodies were discovered on a rural road near the university campus in Starkville.

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

In the Texas case, Parr, who was convicted of murdering Joel Dominguez, was pronounced dead at 6:32 p.m. CST (2332 GMT), the state criminal justice department said in a statement.

"These eyes will close, but they will be opened again, my understanding of God is, Jesus has got me through. To my family I love ya'll," Parr said, according to a last statement released by the department.

Parr was the 11th person executed in the United States in 2013 and the fifth in Texas, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

He had bought marijuana from Dominguez at a Waco convenience store and returned to the store with a friend to get his money back, according to a case summary from the Texas attorney general's office. Parr and his friend, who were armed, forced Dominguez and another man to a fenced area near the store.

Parr pistol-whipped Dominguez, got his money back from him, then told his friend to "smoke 'em," the account said. Parr fatally shot Dominguez in the head, and Parr's friend shot the other man in the hand.

Parr had previous convictions for delivery of cocaine and evading arrest, and prosecutors presented evidence that he was involved in another murder in 2001.

(Additional reporting by Corrie MacLaggan in Austin, Texas; Editing by Scott Malone, Richard Chang, Colleen Jenkins, Jim Marshall and Andrew Hay)

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