ST. LOUIS (AP) — Disputed DNA has halted the scheduled execution of a Missouri man. Marcellus Williams, 48, was convicted of fatally stabbing former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Lisha Gayle during a 1998 robbery at her home in the suburb of University City.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on Tuesday halted the scheduled execution after DNA testing raised questions about whether he actually killed.
Just hours before Williams was to be put to death, the Republican governor said in an email that he was issuing a stay of execution.
Williams’ attorneys had appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking a new hearing or the commutation of his sentence to life in prison.
Attorney Kent Gipson contends that DNA testing conducted in December using techniques that were not available at the time of the killing showed DNA found on the knife matches an unknown man, but not Williams. He also cited previous DNA testing of hairs found from Gayle’s shirt and fingernails that also excluded Williams, and said footprints at the scene did not match Williams.
The new evidence “means in our mind the actual killer is not him,” Gipson told The Associated Press last week.
Loree Anne Paradise, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Josh Hawley, said the office remains confident that Williams is guilty based on other evidence in the case.
“A sentence of death is the ultimate, permanent punishment,” Greitens said in his statement. “To carry out the death penalty, the people of Missouri must have confidence in the judgment of guilt.”
Greitens said he will appoint a five-member board of inquiry made up of retired judges with subpoena power. The board will make a recommendation to the governor concerning whether the 48-year-old Williams should be executed. No timetable has been set.
Gipson said Williams’ conviction was based on the testimony of two convicted felons who were out for a $10,000 reward. One was Williams’ former girlfriend and the other was his former cellmate.
Gayle, 42, was stabbed repeatedly on Aug. 11, 1998, after surprising the burglar in her home. Gayle was a reporter at the Post-Dispatch from 1981 to 1992, leaving to do social work.
In a court filing last week, Assistant Attorney General Michael Spillane wrote that Williams took a bus to the St. Louis suburb of University City, Missouri, on Aug. 11, 1998, looking for a house to break into and chose Gayle’s.
Spillane said Williams broke out a window pane to get inside, where he heard water running in the shower. Spillane said Williams went downstairs and found a large butcher knife. When Gayle came downstairs, she was stabbed 43 times. Her purse and her husband’s laptop were stolen.
Spillane said Williams stole a jacket to conceal blood on his shirt. Williams’ girlfriend at the time, Laura Asaro, later asked him why he would wear a jacket on such a hot day. According to prosecutors, the girlfriend said she later saw the laptop in the car and that Williams sold it a day or two later.
The state also cites testimony from Henry Cole, who shared a cell with Williams for three months in 1999 while Williams was jailed in St. Louis on unrelated charges. Cole told prosecutors that Williams confessed to the killing and offered details about it.
But Gipson said the girlfriend and Cole were both convicted felons who were out for a $10,000 reward.
In addition to the murder conviction, Williams is also serving consecutive terms of life in prison for robbery, and 30 years each for burglary and weapons crimes.
After several years of being among the states with the highest number of executions, the pace in Missouri has slowed considerably. The only execution in this state this year was in January, when Mark Christeson was put to death for killing a woman and her two children.
(Missouri Department of Corrections via AP)
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