A Missouri man on death row convicted of murder will have another chance to clear his name as Gov. Eric Greitens issued a stay of execution for Marcellus Williams. The stay comes hours before he was to be executed for the 1998 killing of a former newspaper reporter. Williams' attorneys are saying that new DNA evidence will exonerate their client.
According to the Washington Post, Greitens will appoint a board to investigate the new evidence before making a decision about Williams' freedom. Greitens released a statement about the decision to halt Williams' execution, saying,
“A sentence of death is the ultimate, permanent punishment. To carry out the death penalty, the people of Missouri must have confidence in the judgment of guilt. In light of new information, I am appointing a Board of Inquiry in this case.”
In 2001, Williams was convicted of murdering Felicia "Lisha" Gayle, a former reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Court records indicate that Gayle was killed after being stabbed 43 times in her home, according to the Washington Post. During the trial, prosecutors claimed Williams burglarized Gayle's home and when she was revealed to be home, he stabbed her to death, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Williams' attorneys had requested the U.S. Supreme Court to halt Williams' execution or reduce his sentence to life in prison in order to examine the DNA evidence. The state's high court previously denied the request.
New DNA evidence was found through technology that was not available during the 2001 trial. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that DNA found on the handle of the knife used to kill Gayle matched an unknown male. Greg Hampikian, a biologist at Boise State University, analyzed the sample.
Although the Missouri court denied Williams' attorney's request to postpone the execution in August, back in 2015 the court approved a postponement in order to analyze the new data.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the prosecution offered evidence during the trial of Williams' guilt as witnesses who said Williams confessed to them and proof that Williams had sold Gayle's laptop online, but no physical DNA evidence for the killing. CNN also reported that the state found items belonging to Gayle in the vehicle Williams owned. Although the lack of DNA evidence alone certainly does not prove innocence, the fact that there is new DNA to be tried is significant.
Whether the new evidence ends up exonerating him or not, Williams may now get the opportunity to have a new trial and start again to clear his name.