SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A Missouri man convicted of murder will not be executed on Tuesday after Gov. Eric Greitens issued a stay of execution and appointed a board to further consider his case.
“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.”
Missouri planned to put the 48-year-old to death even as his lawyers said new DNA evidence proves his innocence.
The Missouri Attorney General’s Office argues the execution should be carried out because the DNA evidence doesn’t overcome non-DNA evidence that connects Williams to the crime.
Williams was convicted in the death of Felicia Gayle, 42, a former reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper who was stabbed 43 times inside her home in August 1998.
The newly acquired evidence shows Williams’ DNA was not found on the murder weapon, Williams’ lawyers say, though DNA from another male was found.
That evidence was not available when Williams went to trial in 2001, court documents say. Williams maintains his innocence and says he was convicted on the testimony of individuals who were, themselves, convicted felons.
Forensic DNA expert and biologist Greg Hampikian, who was hired by defense lawyers, said Monday that “when you’re stabbing, DNA transfers because of restriction and force. If you’re stabbing anyone, you have a good chance of transferring your DNA because of that force.”
The analysis of DNA on the knife “isn’t enough to incriminate someone, but it is enough to exclude somebody,” he said. “It’s like finding a Social Security card with some blurred numbers. There’s still enough there to at least exclude someone.”
Hair samples found at the crime scene don’t match Williams’ DNA, Hampikian said. A footprint found at the scene also does not match the defendant’s shoes, his lawyers said.
But the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, in addressing the new DNA evidence in court documents filed in federal court last week in opposition to a stay of execution, offered a possible explanation of why none of Williams’ DNA was found on the knife.
The new DNA evidence “does not come close to showing Williams is actually innocent,” the documents state. “It would be unsurprising if Williams, who wore a coat from the crime scene to cover his bloody shirt, wore gloves when he committed the burglary and the murder.”
In a statement issued Monday, the state attorney general’s office said Williams’ guilt was proven without DNA evidence.
“Based on the other, non-DNA, evidence in this case, our office is confident in Marcellus Williams’ guilt and plans to move forward,” said Loree Anne Paradise, deputy chief of staff for Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley.
The non-DNA evidence includes a laptop belonging to the victim’s husband, which Williams sold and police recovered, and some of the victim’s personal items, which police found in the trunk of the car Williams drove, according to court documents.
Williams got picked up about three weeks after Gayle was killed on unrelated charges.
His cell mate from that time at a local jail, Henry Cole, and Laura Asaro, Williams’ girlfriend, testified for the state, saying Williams told them separately that he committed the murder, according to the documents filed by the state attorney general.