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A jailhouse snitch put Steven Manning on death row

A jailhouse snitch put Steven Manning on death rowOn May 14, 1990, James Pellegrino, a suburban trucker and former partner of Steven Manning, a corrupt former Chicago police officer, left home after purportedly telling his wife Joyce that if he turned up dead she should call the FBI and report that Manning had killed him. Pellegrino’s body was found floating in the Des Plaines near the Lawrence Avenue Bridge in Chicago on June 3. His wrists and ankles were bound with duct tape, his head was in a plastic bag and covered with a towel, and he had been shot in the head.

The following August, Manning was arrested and placed in the Cook County Jail, where he was assigned to a cell with one Thomas Dye, a notorious con man and jailhouse snitch with a long criminal record, including 10 felony convictions, dating to 1978. Dye had recently been sentenced to 14 years in prison for residential burglary and was awaiting trial in three other felony cases.

Dye soon contacted prosecutors and told them that Manning had confessed to the Pellegrino murder. Dye was a known liar and perjurer, so his claim carried little credibility without corroboration. In an effort to substantiate it, Cook County Assistant State’s Attorneys Patrick J. Quinn and William G. Gamboney arranged for Dye to record conversations with Mannin, who said a great many things that cast him in an unfavorable light but nothing about Pellegrino. Even though no physical evidence linked Manning to the murder, Quinn and Gamboney proceeded to take Manning to trial in 1993; because the murder allegedly had occurred during an armed robbery, it was a potential capital offense.

Although the taped conversations contained no reference to Pellegrino, Circuit Court Judge Edward M. Fiala, Jr., allowed the jury to hear them. Without hearing much other substantive evidence, the jury found Manning guilty. After waiving his right to a jury sentencing hearing, Manning was sentenced to death by Fiala.

Prosecutors Quinn and Gamboney then arranged for Dye’s 14-year prison sentence to be cut to 6 years. On April 16, 1998, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the conviction and remanded the case for a new trial, but for reasons having nothing to do with Dye’s lack of credibility. Rather the case was reversed based on Fiala’s improper admission into evidence of the Dye-Manning tapes, which contained irrelevant and prejudicial references to other crimes, allegedly committed by Manning, and of Joyce Pellegrino’s testimony to the effect that her husband told her that if he turned up dead she should pin the crime on Manning. Prosecutors refused to comment on their decision to dismiss the charges on January 19, 2000, 21 months after the Supreme Court decision. Upon his release in Illinois, Manning was sent to Missouri, where he earlier had been sentenced to 100 years in prison on unrelated kidnaping charges.

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