Updated August 22, @ 4:15 p.m., ET.
Just hours before Missouri may have executed an innocent man, Republican Gov. Eric Greitens ordered a stay of execution on Tuesday, the Washington Post reports.
Marcellus Williams was scheduled to be executed Tuesday night for the 1998 murder of a woman during a burglary. New DNA evidence, however, suggests that Williams is innocent. His legal team was making an 11th-hour appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court when the governor announced the stay.
Greitens plans to appoint a board to examine all the evidence in the case before deciding whether to grant clemency.
Final hours are ticking away for a Missouri death row inmate scheduled to die by lethal injection on Tuesday night.
The Independent reports that Marcellus Williams faces execution despite new DNA evidence that could exonerate him of a brutal murder.
A nearly all-White jury convicted Williams, now 48, of murdering Lisha Gayle, a reporter with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper, in 1998. According to the prosecutor, Williams stabbed the 42-year-old woman 43 times in her home during a burglary.
Prosecutors won a conviction even though there was no physical evidence linking Williams to the crime. The footprints at the scene and hair fibers did not match him. What’s more, there were no eyewitnesses to the murder.
Williams has always maintained his innocence. His lawyer, Kent Gipson, said there’s new DNA evidence, which was not available during the trial, that proves his client did not murder Gayle. The DNA found on the murder weapon does not match Williams. It belongs to an unknown male.
Despite this new evidence, the Missouri Supreme Court delivered an unfavorable ruling last week to Williams’ legal team.
“We petitioned the court to look at the new evidence on August 14th, and less than 24 hours later they decided based on the court files that the execution should go ahead anyway. This is unprecedented,” Gipson told Al Jazeera.
Gipson has now turned to the U.S. Supreme Court, which places the decision in the hands of conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, who President Trump nominated. Gorsuch serves as the high court’s judge who oversees cases from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Missouri.
State prosecutors, however, are unimpressed by the new evidence. CNN said they are standing by their non-DNA evidence, which includes a laptop belonging to Gayle’s husband that Williams sold and the victim’s personal items found in his car.
The prosecutor also convicted Williams on the testimony of two witnesses who claimed that Williams confessed to the murder. One of the witnesses was a cell mate and the other a drug-addicted prostitute.
According to Williams’ legal team, the witnesses are felons who received money after the trial, The Independent said. The DNA evidence, they maintain, is enough to exclude Williams as a suspect.
A forensics expert hired by the defense agrees. He told CNN that the DNA on the knife is like finding a social security card with blurred numbers. “There’s still enough there to at least exclude someone,” he stated.
At the same time, many are raising questions about how race played out at the trial: the jury included just Black person.
Samuel Spital, the director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, noted to CNN that the judge allowed the prosecutor to preemptively strike six of seven prospective Black jurors, underscoring that Gayle was White.