Missouri governor halts man’s execution after DNA questions

This February 2014 photo provided by the Missouri Department of Corrections shows death row inmate Marcellus Williams. Attorneys for Williams are asking the Missouri Supreme Court and Gov. Eric Greitens to halt his scheduled execution citing DNA evidence that they say exonerates him. Williams is scheduled to die by injection Aug. 22, 2017, for fatally stabbing former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Lisha Gayle during a robbery at her University City home in 1998. (Missouri Department of Corrections via AP)

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens halted Tuesday’s scheduled execution of condemned killer Marcellus Williams after DNA raised questions about his guilt.

The Republican governor said in an email just hours before Williams was to be put to death that he was issuing a stay of execution. Williams was convicted of fatally stabbing former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Lisha Gayle during a burglary at her suburban St. Louis home in 1998. Williams’ execution was scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday.

The governor’s decision comes after Williams’ attorneys cited DNA evidence found on the murder weapon that matched another unknown person, but not Williams. But St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch said there was ample other evidence to convict Williams, and said there was “zero possibility” he was innocent.

“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 that will be made up of retired judges who will have subpoena power. The board will make a recommendation to the governor concerning whether Williams should be executed. No timetable was set.

Williams’ attorney, Kent Gipson, called the stay “the appropriate thing to do.” He believes large-scale protests were a factor in the governor’s decision.

“The people have spoken,” Gipson said. “This online petition had a quarter of a million signatures. The case has generated a lot of outrage all over the country and the world.”