DNA Evidence Halts Execution of Convicted Murderer
The execution of convicted murderer Marcellus Williams was stopped after the death row inmate’s attorneys discovered that DNA on the murder weapon, a knife, was not their client’s only four hours before his scheduled lethal injection.
“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,” said Governor Eric Greitens who ultimately halted the execution based on the new evidence.
Williams, 48, was convicted in 2001 for the fatal stabbing of Post-Dispatch reporter Lisha Gayle. Prosecutors alleged that Williams burglarized Gayle’s home in 1998 and, when the two inadvertently met during the act, he stabbed her 43 times. They claimed Williams had confessed to two other witnesses and had sold a laptop computer taken in the robbery. Personal items of Gayle’s were found in his car. Attorneys argued that Williams likely wore gloves during the incident.
Forensic DNA expert and biologist Greg Hampikian said “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. It’s like finding a Social Security card with some blurred numbers. There’s still enough there to at least exclude someone.”
DNA found on the knife suggests an unknown male is the actual murderer. Other evidence, such as footprints and hair samples, found at the murder scene did not belong to Williams. No forensic evidence has ever pointed to Williams.
“As a matter of fairness, what do you do when you’ve said somebody should get DNA testing, and they get the DNA testing, and the DNA testing suggests they didn’t commit the murder?” asked Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “Missouri is trying to execute him without giving him an evidentiary hearing on what that DNA evidence means.” He said exonerations in the last two decades have “shown us that all the other evidence the jury relied on in those cases was wrong. And in case after case after case, prosecutors and judges had said it doesn’t matter because there is overwhelming evidence of guilt.”
“We are relieved and grateful that Governor Greitens halted Missouri’s rush to execution and appointed a Board of Inquiry to hear the new DNA and other evidence supporting Mr. Williams’ innocence,” said Nina Morrison, senior staff attorney at the Innocence Project. “While many Americans hold different views on the death penalty, there is an overwhelming consensus that those sentenced to death should be given due process and a full hearing on all their claims before an execution, and the governor’s action honors that principle.”
Defense attorney Larry Komp said he and his client shared the same reaction to the evidence pinning someone else as the actual murderer. “He was thoughtful and I believe happy, and asked where do we go from here. His reaction was the same as mine: Happy for 30 seconds and then ‘Alright, let’s get to work.'”