DNA evidence may be the key to proving a death row inmate didn't commit the crimes he was convicted of sixteen years ago. Marcellus Williams was found guilty of “first-degree murder and first-degree burglary in 2001” and was scheduled to be executed on Tuesday for the offenses. However, Williams is now getting another chance to prove his innocence after his execution stayed by Governor Eric Greitens in light of new DNA evidence. In a statement, Greitens said, “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.” This five-member board will “investigate the case and make recommendations on whether Williams should be executed,” according to Courthouse News Service. CNN reports that the “stay will remain in place as long it's necessary for the case's review and for the governor to make a final decision.”
Williams' attorneys claim that there is no forensic evidence linking Williams to the murder, which took place in 1998. The victim was 42-year old Felicia Anne Gayle. She was stabbed to death in her home after an intruder broke in by knocking out a window pane and then unlocking the front door. The new DNA evidence the defense presented shows that the DNA on the murder weapon was not Williams and that the hair and footprints found at the crime scene did not belong to him either. However, according to the state, the testimony of two witnesses who Williams allegedly confessed to as well as other circumstantial evidence proves that Williams is guilty of the crime. The defense also contests the credibility of the witnesses claiming that they “snitched” in order to get the $10,000 reward that was being offered.
Williams' attorneys also filed a petition for certiorari with the United States Supreme Court asking the justices to consider the case as Missouri's state supreme court had already “turned down defense lawyers' bid to have the execution stopped and didn't provide a reason,” according to CNN. But, the Justices won't consider the case while the Governor's stay is in effect. Courthouse News Service reports that, even if Williams is pardoned for the murder, he “will likely spend the rest of his life in prison because the judge who sentenced him to death also imposed consecutive terms of life in prison for robbery, 30 years for burglary and 60 years for weapons violations.”
The advent of DNA evidence has been a game-changer in the criminal justice system. It has been used both to convict and exonerate people since it first came into use in 1980's. According to the Innocence Project, 351 people have been exonerated using DNA evidence in the United States.
To learn more about some early cases involving DNA evidence, check out this post. To learn more about a Washington man who's case was overturned because of DNA evidence, read this blog.
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