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August 22, 2017

Missouri Gov halts scheduled execution and appoints Board of Inquiry to investigate innocence claim

As reported in this local article, today just "before Marcellus Williams was to be put to death for the 1998 murder of a former newspaper reporter, Gov. Eric Greitens issued a stay of execution and appointed a board to look into the case." Here is why:

“A sentence of death is the ultimate, permanent punishment,” Greitens said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “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.”

Williams’ attorneys have been pleading for a stay, arguing that Missouri was on the verge of executing the wrong person. Williams, 48, was sentenced to death in 2001 for killing Felicia Gayle, who had been a reporter with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Gayle was stabbed 43 times with a butcher knife in her home. Williams was scheduled to be executed in 2015, but the Missouri Supreme Court stayed his lethal injection, allowing him time to obtain new DNA testing.

DNA testing of the murder weapon, conducted in 2016 and using technology that was not available at the time of the killing, shows Williams is not a match for the male DNA found on the murder weapon.

The Missouri Supreme Court last week turned down his attorneys’ attempt to have the execution stopped. The court did not provide a reason....

Greitens said he would appoint a five-member board that will include retired judges and have the power to subpoena evidence and compel witnesses to testify. The board will look into the case and make a recommendation to the governor as to whether Williams should be executed or have his death sentence commuted....

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Josh Hawley told The Washington Post this week that based on “non-DNA evidence in this case our office is confident in Marcellus Williams’ guilt and plans to move forward.” Among the other evidence cited by Hawley’s office is testimony by Williams’ former cellmate and an ex-girlfriend implicating him in the murder. Some of the victim’s belongings were found in a car Williams drove the day she was killed.

Opponents of the death penalty say Williams’ case should help fuel the push to end the practice in Missouri. “Marcellus Williams’ case is a classic example of the inherent injustice of the death penalty system,” said Zeke Johnson, senior director of programs at Amnesty International USA, “and why it should be altogether abolished.”

Williams was set to face lethal injection at 6 p.m. Tuesday if not for the governor’s order 

Gov. Greitens' full two-page statement is available at this link.

August 22, 2017 at 11:37 PM | Permalink

Comments

If a guy used the knife to cut food or to pry something open, his DNA would be on it. Or was the DNA that of a careless police officer?

If you have the possessions of the stabbing victim in your car, you need to go.

Posted by: David Behar | Aug 23, 2017 6:18:37 AM

The woman's stuff was in his car---unless he has a good explanation, he should fry. Cases like this should require the condemned to waive his 5A rights as a condition to opening the inquiry.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 23, 2017 7:46:35 AM

"DNA testing of the murder weapon, conducted in 2016 and using technology that was not available at the time of the killing, shows Williams is not a match for the male DNA found on the murder weapon."

Behar and Federallist say kill him anyway--maybe for his bad poetry?

Posted by: Taylor | Aug 23, 2017 9:31:40 AM

Taylor. How did he get the possessions of a stranger in his car?

Nor is bad poetry a mitigating factor in the death penalty, yet. Give it time. Pro-criminal abolitionists will get around to it, as an evolving standard of decency for Justice Kennedy. It is more valid than the current mitigating factors, which are all, actually, aggravating factors. Youth, insanity, and mental retardation should fast track the death penalty, if the purpose of the law is public safety.

Posted by: David Behar | Aug 23, 2017 9:42:40 AM

Taylor, apparently you have problems with reading comprehension.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 23, 2017 10:18:26 AM

"The newly acquired evidence shows Williams' DNA was not found on the murder weapon, Williams' lawyers say, though DNA from another male was found."

I don't know what this "bad poetry" reference is about but such evidence very well might be provide reasonable doubt enough at least not to execute.

I don't think the state should execute just because the convicted person doesn't want to waive his 5A rights. Some doubt, which provides evidence for and against [including the car evidence], should set up a red flag for the state to not possibly execute someone not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The people are executing someone and they have a special obligation to be particularly careful.

As to the car evidence:

"according to Williams' lawyer, the car in which the victim's belongings were found did not belong to Williams"

https://digg.com/2017/marcellus-williams-explained

I gather if we look into the matter more, including at the trial where the lawyer would have to answer the state's claims, more of that sort of thing would arise. I gather though that some won't think a "good" explanation was provided. Still, an explanation was provided, and this is in the balance with the DNA evidence.

I would not be surprised with either an execution or commutation to life in the future here.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 23, 2017 12:14:58 PM

Joe, Taylor's reference to "bad poetry" apparently reflects his knowledge of Shakespeare.
See Julius Caesar Act III, Scene 3. After Marc Anthony’s impassioned funeral oration over Ceasar's body, the Roman mob is incited to hunt down the conspirators who assassinated Caesar, one of whom was named Cinna. The mob comes across a famous poet also named Cinna, and accuses him of being a conspirator. He denies it, claiming he is Cinna the poet, not Cinna the conspirator. The following is excerpted from the dialogue that ensues:

Third Citizen: Your name, Sir, truly

Cinna the Poet: Truly, my name is Cinna

First Citizen: Tear him to pieces, he’s a conspirator

Cinna the Poet: I am Cinna the poet, I am Cinna the poet.

Fourth Citizen: Tear him for his bad verses, tear him for his bad verses.

(emphasis added).

Cinna's protestations of innocence notwithstanding, the mob killed kills him because of his bad poetry (as it were), not because he was a conspirator.

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Aug 23, 2017 1:21:55 PM

Mr. Levine, my paperback has the encounter as follows:


CINNA. Truly, my name is Cinna.

FIRST PLEBEIAN. Tear him to pieces; he's a conspirator!!!

CINNA. I am Cinna the poet; I am Cinna the poet!

FOURTH PLEBEIAN. Tear him for his bad verses, tear him for his bad verses!

CINNA. I am not Cinna the conspirator!

FOURTH PLEBEIAN. It is no matter, his name's Cinna! Pluck but his name out of his heart, and turn him going!

— Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 3.

Posted by: Dave from Texas | Aug 23, 2017 1:26:57 PM

Huh. Well, that seems a tad obscure. Thanks.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 23, 2017 1:29:08 PM

The genius of Shakespeare. The excerpt quoted above from Julius Caeer is at the time tragic and comedic.

Posted by: English major | Aug 23, 2017 1:29:54 PM

Joe, if truth-seeking is important, then the condemned (once all appeals are exhausted) should be forced to give up his right to remain silent in order to get these stays. It's possible, of course, that possession of the victim's property in his car is consistent with innocence, but he should have to explain it.

This doesn't seem objectionable. I believe Paul House had to testify (and the court didn't believe him--not that that mattered to Roberts and the gang).

Posted by: federalist | Aug 23, 2017 2:33:45 PM

"Joe, if truth-seeking is important"

That's a fine generic principle but the details as usual are complicated.

The state has an obligation to not execute if there is a reasonable chance of innocence. They have a duty to carefully investigate. The fact the condemned doesn't want to waive his 5A rights, rights in place to advance constitutional values, doesn't by itself take the state off hook. Plus, what he will add when the matter has already been covered (as I noted) is unclear. He can simply say what was already said. In other case, the person might stay mute. The evidence as a whole can still suggest reasonable doubt, though failure to testify will lead open questions.

Failure to testify at times results in people being detained. He's detained. Failure to testify leading to execution is a step beyond.

House v. Bell held he didn't meet a freestanding innocence claim but did meet a lesser test regarding significant doubt on his guilt. Roberts wrote a partial dissent disagreeing with the holding. Since I'm only concerned with the level of proof necessary to execute, not leave him in prison, total innocence is not really necessary in my view. I read over a summary of his case and don't know if testified or did so only because he had to do so.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 23, 2017 6:08:22 PM

"The state has an obligation to not execute if there is a reasonable chance of innocence. They have a duty to carefully investigate. The fact the condemned doesn't want to waive his 5A rights, rights in place to advance constitutional values, doesn't by itself take the state off hook."

Citation please? That doesn't sound like the law to me.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 24, 2017 10:03:28 AM

Didn't say it was "the law." It is my opinion on what their obligation is.

This is also why I said what the state 'should' do earlier. Sounds hortatory. Cf. my specific citation of a case to address something you referenced.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 24, 2017 7:38:36 PM

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