A governor’s decision to stay the imminent execution of a death row inmate following claims of new evidence has drawn praise from the Missouri Catholic Conference.
“Mr. Williams’ case exposes the inherent problems with capital murder trials,” said Rita Lindhardt, a senior staff associate at the conference who chairs the board of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. “We appreciate the governor’s willingness to allow further deliberation on the DNA evidence, and are grateful that he stayed the execution,” Lindhardt said in an Aug. 22 statement from the Catholic conference.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) stayed the execution on Tuesday, citing new DNA evidence. “A sentence of death is the ultimate, permanent punishment,” the governor said. “To carry out the death penalty, the people of Missouri must have confidence in the judgment of guilt.” He appointed a board of inquiry to review the evidence and decide whether the inmate should be granted clemency.
Marcellus Williams, 48, was scheduled to be executed Aug. 22. His attorneys said the DNA evidence, unavailable during his 2001 trial, proved his innocence. His DNA was not found on the murder weapon, but another man’s was. Williams says he was innocent and convicted on the testimony of individuals who were convicted felons.
He was convicted of the August 1998 murder of Felicia Gayle, 42, a former reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was stabbed 43 times inside of her home. Her widower, Dan Picus, is declining interviews with the press. Defenders of Williams, such as Samuel Spital, the director of Litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, objected to the trial prosecutor’s preemptive striking of six of seven prospective black jurors. Spital noted to CNN that Williams is black, while Gayle was white.
The Missouri Attorney General’s Office had said the execution should be carried out because the DNA evidence does not overcome the other evidence connecting Williams to the crime. Court documents say police found some of Gayle’s items in the trunk of the car Williams drove. He also sold a stolen laptop that belonged to the victim’s husband, a laptop which police recovered. Williams’ girlfriend and his cellmate during his time in jail on unrelated charges both testified that Williams told them he committed the murder.
The Missouri Supreme Court on Aug. 15 rejected an appeal seeking a halt to the execution. Both Williams’ attorneys and officials for the state had made arguments to Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, who handles federal circuit cases from Missouri. However, neither Gorsuch nor the Supreme Court had made public statements before the governor granted the stay, the Washington Post reports.