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After 40 Years Behind Bars, Louisiana Man Sentenced to Life Will Finally Gain His Freedom

Louisiana Man Release

Gerald Manning was interrogated by police for nearly 30 hours, during which he gave multiple and varied confessions to Vonda Harris’ murder. (Image courtesy of Monroe News Star )

A Louisiana man wrongfully jailed for 41 years on attempted aggravated rape and second-degree murder charges is finally eligible for release, thanks to help from the family of his alleged victim.

George Manning, age 59, was charged in the 1970’s killing of teenager Vonda Harris, but an application for post-conviction relief filed by The Innocence Project argues DNA testing exonerated Manning in the young woman’s murder, the Monroe News Star reported.

A defense filing showed that all of Harris’ surviving family members have also advocated for his release prison.

“I am thrilled that Gerald’s wrongful incarceration is finally being brought to an end, and that he will soon be reunited with his loving family,” attorney Kristin Wenstrom, who filed Manning’s application for post-conviction relief, said. “Gerald was an innocent child who had his life robbed from him.”

Manning’s release wasn’t immediately granted, however, a change in the law ultimately led to a reconsideration of his sentence. In 2012, Louisiana’s mandatory life sentence for those who commit homicide as a juvenile was deemed unconstitutional.

According to the News Star, the Louisiana state legislature then “… revised the sentencing and parole statutes to allow anyone who commits homicide while under the age of 18 to be sentenced to life with the eligibility to apply for parole after serving 25 years.”

Harris was found murdered in the early morning of Feb. 21 after attending a dance at the American Legion Hall the previous night, the News Star reported. She had argued with an ex-boyfriend who showed up with another girl and was last seen walking home alone. Her naked body was found behind a vacant home the next morning.

Authorities said the teen girl’s pantyhose were gathered around her feet and her arms tied behind her back with her bra. She’d been stabbed several times and was hit over the head with an 18-inch two-by-four. A coroner determined Harris had also been raped.

Five months had passed and 25 potential suspects interviewed before Monroe Police approached Manning, who was still a high school student, about the murder. According to the News Star, the teen was interrogated for 28.5 of the 33 hours immediately following his arrest during which he gave multiple and varied confessions.

” … Gerald Manning, an intellectually impaired, suggestible teenager, described by a psychiatrist at the time as ‘exquisitely naive,’ was a pawn used by the Monroe Police Department to close a six-month-old murder case that the citizens of Monroe were demanding be solved,” his application for relief reads.

Manning, who’s been in incarcerated for four decades, was finally given the benefit of the legislation change in April. He has since been re-sentenced and will be eligible for release as soon as the paperwork is complete. Also, because he entered an “Alford plea” for lesser crimes, Manning will be able to maintain his innocence while accepting the new charges.

“He deserves to be fully exonerated but this compromise allowed him to be released today rather than forcing him to wait years in prison while we fight in court,” Wenstrom told the newspaper.

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