A tragic and confounding event seems to be rolling out in Missouri over the next couple of days, in which a man who was convicted of murder will be executed by the state, despite new evidence that seems to corroborate his claim of innocence, or at least cast very serious doubt on his conviction.
Back in 1998, newspaper reporter Lisha Gayle was murdered in a gated community in St. Louis, Missouri. There were no eyewitnesses and no forensic evidence linking Marcellus Williams to the murder. Instead, he was convicted on the strength of two testimonies. One from one of Williams’ cellmates, who said Williams had confessed to him. The other from a one-time girlfriend of Williams, who claimed to have seen scratches on his neck suggesting a struggle, and have observed Gayle’s driver’s license in Williams’ possession.
But Williams’ DNA was not found under Gayle’s fingernails, and Gayle’s license never left the scene of the crime. Nevertheless, a mostly white jury found Williams guilty. Both of the witnesses collected a financial reward for providing evidence that led to the murderer’s arrest. Williams has always maintained his innocence, even leading up to his 2015 planned execution date. That date was ultimately postponed to allow time for new DNA evidence to be examined.
That new DNA evidence has been examined and it reportedly shows that Williams’ DNA was not found on the murder weapon. Instead, Williams’ lawyers say, the DNA belongs to an unknown third party. Nevertheless, the Missouri Supreme Court is refusing to review the evidence, and Williams’ execution debate is scheduled for Tuesday, August 22.
“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,” Williams’ lawyer, Kent Gipson, told Al Jazeera. “There is no physical evidence, no eyewitnesses that directly connect Williams to the murder, the DNA on the weapon wasn’t his, the bloody footprint at the murder scene wasn’t from Williams’ shoe and was a different size, and the hair fibers found weren’t his. It was someone else that killed Gayle, not Williams.”
Now activists are petitioning Missouri Governor Eric Greitins to stay the execution so that the Missouri Supreme Court can review the new evidence. You can get involved here.
“He is a newly elected governor and he heavily campaigned on being pro-life,” Gipson told reporters. “Anyone who says he is pro-life would not let anyone be executed, especially not when there is more than enough reasonable doubt like in this case.”
Famed anti-capital punishment advocate Sister Helen Prejean also weighed in. “The fact of the matter is DNA evidence shows that Marcellus Williams was not involved in this crime,” said her spokesman, Griffin Hardy. “That means that there is a killer who may still be out in the community at large. Missouri should use its resources to apprehend the real killer instead of executing a man who didn’t commit this crime.”