The nationwide cry for Marcellus Williams to receive a fair trial reached a fever pitch this week, with numerous petitions clamoring the state of Missouri to consider DNA evidence that suggested Williams was not guilty of the 1998 murder for which he was found guilty. Williams had been set to executed on Tuesday evening , with the Missouri Supreme Court refusing to consider the new evidence, but now, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has issued a stay of execution.
“A sentence of death is the ultimate, permanent punishment,” Greitens said in a statement. “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.”
The move was a relief to Williams’ lawyer, and the many activists who say the new evidence makes a strong case that Missouri had been on the verge of killing an innocent man. Now, Greitens says he’ll appoint an investigative committee to examine the new DNA evidence and help determine next steps to make sure Williams receives a measure of justice.
The case involves the murder of Lisha Gayle, a former newspaper reporter who was stabbed to death in her St. Louis home. While there was no DNA evidence or eyewitnesses linking Williams to the crime, Williams’ cellmate and former girlfriend told the jury that he’d confessed to them, even as Williams himself maintained his innocence. Police were also able to track a laptop that had been stolen from Gayle’s home back to Williams.
But a new DNA test says an unknown third party’s DNA was found on the murder weapon. Williams’ attorneys say that this evidence provides “conclusive scientific evidence that another man committed this crime.”
“They’re never going to ever confront an actual innocence cause more persuading than this involving exonerating DNA evidence,” Kent Gipson, one of Williams’s attorneys, told the Washington Post. “I’ve seen a lot of miscarriages of justice, but this one would take the cake.”