JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – The fate of a Missouri death row inmate whose execution was halted last year after DNA evidence raised questions about his case is on hold as a result of former Gov. Eric Greitens’ resignation.
Marcellus Williams, 49, was hours away from being put to death in August when Greitens halted the execution. Williams was convicted of fatally stabbing former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Lisha Gayle during a 1998 burglary at her suburban St. Louis home, but DNA evidence found on the murder weapon matched another unknown person.
Greitens, a Republican, appointed a board of inquiry made up of five retired judges to look into the case. The board was scheduled to meet Tuesday in the governor’s office but canceled, citing confusion about whether its authority continues after Greitens resigned last week.
Greitens left office after months of investigations related to a 2015 extramarital affair and his alleged use of a charity donor list for political purposes. He was replaced by Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Parson.
It’s unclear whether Parson will keep the inquiry board intact. The board has suspended its work pending guidance from Parson, the governor’s spokeswoman, Kelli Jones, said.
Nimrod Chapel, president of the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP and a supporter of Williams’, urged the governor to allow the panel to continue its work.
“Gov. Greitens’ issues are their own, but one thing he got right was ensuring that we are going to be dead certain that we are executing the right person for the right crime. I think that’s a piece of leadership we need to hold onto in Missouri, and one that we need to continue,” Chapel said.
Despite the DNA claim, St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch said last year that there was “zero possibility” Williams was innocent, citing ample amounts of other evidence.
About two dozen people gathered in front of the Missouri Supreme Court building Tuesday afternoon to protest the fact that Williams remained in jail. The crowd included two exonerated death row inmates and representatives of the NAACP.
Many spoke both about inconsistencies within Williams’ case and broader racial disparities, especially within the justice system.
“They get it wrong too many times in this country, especially in this state,” said Williams’ son, Marcellus Williams II. “Even if my father gets executed, he has told me personally that he wants his story to shed light for everybody else.”
Prosecutors said Williams broke a window pane to get inside Gayle’s home on Aug. 11, 1998, heard water running in the shower, and found a large butcher knife. When Gayle came downstairs, she was stabbed 43 times. Her purse and her husband’s laptop were stolen.
Authorities said Williams stole a jacket to conceal blood on his shirt. Williams’ girlfriend later asked him why he would wear a jacket on such a hot day. The girlfriend said she later saw the laptop in the car and that Williams sold it a day or two later.
Prosecutors also cited testimony from Henry Cole, who shared a cell with Williams 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.
Williams’ attorneys responded that the girlfriend and Cole were both convicted felons who were out for a $10,000 reward.
Gayle, 42, was a reporter at the Post-Dispatch from 1981 to 1992. She left journalism to do social work.
Salter reported from St. Louis