UPDATE: Williams’ execution has been stayed, by order of Missouri governor as DNA evidence has called the original conviction into question.
issouri Governor Eric Greitens issued a stay of execution on Tuesday for Marcellus Williams, who was sentenced to death in 2001 for killing Lisha Gayle, a former reporter, during a burglary.
The decision came a few hours before Williams was due to be lethally injected in a state prison.
The execution of Williams, who has always maintained his innocence, was originally planned for January 28, 2015, but a court decided that DNA from the case should be investigated using techniques that were not available when trial took place.
This test showed that the DNA on the murder weapon was not of Williams. A bloody footprint and hair fibres found at the scene of the crime also did not belong to Williams.
With no forensic or eyewitness testimony linking Williams directly to the murder, the prosecution based its case on the testimonies of two people who later received a financial reward from the victim’s family during a trial where 11 of the 12 jurors were white.
However, the court refused to take this new evidence into consideration, planning to go ahead with the execution nonetheless.
“A sentence of death is the ultimate, permanent punishment,” Greitens said in a press release on Tuesday. “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.”
Kent Gipson, the lawyer of Williams, said he was “very happy” with the governor’s decision.
“We think it’s the right decision based on the new DNA evidence,” Gipson told Al Jazeera. “We’re ready to present all our evidence to the board of inquiry and we are fairly confident that this is going to end well for Marcellus.”
The Board of Inquiry appointed by the governor will consist of five former Missouri judges who will report back to Greitens with a recommendation as to whether or not Williams should be executed or his sentence of death commuted.
Staci Pratt, executive director of human rights organisation Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, who has been campaigning against the execution, also welcomed Greitens’ decision.
“We have much to celebrate right now but also much to acknowledge how we got to this day that we need to hold these rallies. Our capital punishment is broken and our judicial system still has major flaws,” Pratt told Al Jazeera.
“This is a wakeup call and a siren, this is about more than just Marcellus’ case. Naturally, we are happy with today’s result, but we must make sure that cases like Marcellus’ don’t arise again.”
On Tuesday, the state of Missouri is planning on moving forward with the execution of 48-year-old Marcellus Williams, even though his lawyers have evidence which they claim could prove Williams’ innocence.
Williams is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at 7 p.m. ET, but on Monday his lawyers filed a brief with Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, asking for a reprieve to review the new evidence. According to Williams’ lawyers, his DNA doesn’t exist on the murder weapon; DNA from another male was found. When Williams was convicted in 2001, the evidence was not available.
“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 fibres found weren’t his,” Gipson in an interview with Al Jazeera.
Gipson points to a variety of factors in Williams’ conviction, including race, faulty witnesses and Williams’ socio-economic status.
Williams was picked up by police three weeks after Gayle’s death on an unrelated charge. Court documents show police found some of her personal belongings in his car. Authorities also recovered a laptop Williams sold, which belonged to the victim’s husband.
While Williams was in jail for the unrelated charge, his cellmate, Henry Cole, and Laura Asaro, Williams’ former girlfriend, testified that Williams separately confessed to committing the murder. Gipson believes Cole and Asaro were prompted to give false statments by a $10,000 reward that Gayle’s family offered in exchange for information leading to her death.
“At the time, we didn’t have the technology to do these DNA tests. But even now that there is indisputable scientific evidence exonerating Williams from the murder, the attorney general still thinks these testimonies hold more weight than the DNA evidence that shows Williams didn’t commit this crime,” Gipson said to Al Jazeera.
William’s son, Marcellus Williams II, maintains his father’s innocence and states that his father has remained relatively calm in the face of death.
“Someone murdered that woman, but it wasn’t my father,” he said to CNN. “I wish they would find the right suspect and charge them to the fullest extent of the law.”