The NAACP made a last-minute request Friday for the commutation of the death sentence of Missouri inmate Marcellus Williams after the state’s governor heeded a prior request to stay the man’s execution.
Civil rights leaders penned a detailed letter to ask Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens to spare the life of Williams, 48, who was convicted in the murder of a woman in August 1998. Their hope was that Greitens, who will vacate his post as of 5 p.m. Central Time Friday, will honor the request before stepping down.
“I am writing to respectfully request that you commute the death sentence of Marcellus Williams,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson wrote. “Last August you took the courageous step to stay Mr. William’s execution, and I ask that you make this decision permanent before leaving office.”
Here’s everything else to know about Williams’ case and the NAACP’s fight.
NAACP leaders have been outspoken about their opposition to the death penalty, which is disproportionately considered in cases involving inmates of color. African-Americans make up 11 percent of Missouri’s population. However, 33 percent of Missouri’s death row inmates are Black, according to the NAACP Legal And Defense Fund report released this past October.
A death sentence is a form of “cruel, inhuman and unnecessary punishment that has been applied in a racially disparate manner,” Johnson wrote.
In the case of Williams, organization officials felt strongly about Greitens’ giving the order to save the man’s life. Williams was convicted of the murder of Felicia Gayle, 42, a former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter who was stabbed 43 times inside her home in August 1998, CNN reported. The man faced trial in 2001, but he has maintained his innocence and said that false testimonies from convicted felons forced his conviction.
The DNA on the murder weapon didn’t match Williams’ DNA, leading to Greitens staying the man’s execution last August. Hair samples found at the crime scene also didn’t match Williams’ DNA and a footprint found at the scene didn’t match his shoes. Williams was denied proper representation in his case, the NAACP letter stated in presenting “compelling reasons” to spare Williams’ life.
Officials hoped those reasons, along with the NAACP’s successful push to get Greitens to stay Williams’ execution last August, should ensure that the man’s life is spared. They have made a national appeal for help in the case, as well.