Missouri governor lifts stay of execution for man whose DNA was not on murder weapon

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Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has removed a stay of execution for a man whose guilt was called into question after new DNA evidence was discovered.

A stay was issued for Marcellus “Khaliifah” Williams in August 2017 by former Gov. Eric Greitens, who appointed a board of inquiry to look into the case.

Williams, 54, was sentenced to death in 2001 in the killing of Felicia Gayle, who had been a reporter with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Gayle was stabbed 43 times with a butcher knife in her home. Williams was scheduled to be executed in 2015, but the Missouri Supreme Court stayed his lethal injection, allowing him time to obtain new DNA testing.

DNA testing, conducted in 2016 and using technology that was not available at the time of the killing, shows Williams is not a match for the male DNA found on the murder weapon.

His Aug. 22, 2017, execution was halted by Greitens, who resigned from office nine months later amid several legal and personal scandals.

The board of inquiry presented its report and recommendation to Parson. Its findings are confidential.

On Thursday, Parson signed an executive order dissolving the board and lifting the stay of execution.

“This Board was established nearly six years ago, and it is time to move forward,” the governor said in a statement. “We could stall and delay for another six years, deferring justice, leaving a victim’s family in limbo, and solving nothing. This administration won’t do that. Withdrawing the order allows the process to proceed within the judicial system, and, once the due process of law has been exhausted, everyone will receive certainty.”

An execution date has not been set.

Parson’s decision was met with swift criticism.

Williams’ legal team with the Midwest Innocence Project said they were disturbed by Parson’s decision and “by the secret nature of this process.”

“Neither the public nor Mr. Williams has seen the recommendation from the Board of Inquiry,” Williams’ attorneys said. “Life and death decisions require transparency when the killing is done in our names. Without it, the public can have no faith in our systems or our representatives.”

They continued, saying testing excludes Williams as the source of DNA on the murder weapon.

“Yet the State seeks to execute him anyway,” they said. “That is not justice and we will continue to vigorously fight for his freedom and his life.”

The Missouri NAACP said the governor’s stance “undermines Missouri’s moral fabric” and “promotes a culture of death.”

Rod Chapel, president of the state chapter, said it was shocking that “the justification for lifting the stay of execution for Williams boils down to a simple sentiment of ‘let’s get on with it.’”

Michelle Smith, co-director of Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty, said they believe Williams is innocent and that his case illustrates a pattern of racial bias.

”The Missouri governor intends to take as many lives as he can before leaving office,” her counterpart Elyse Max said.

Parson will term out of office in January 2025.

The Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center is shown in this Feb. 7, 2023 photograph. Executions take place at the prison in Bonne Terre, Missouri.
The Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center is shown in this Feb. 7, 2023 photograph. Executions take place at the prison in Bonne Terre, Missouri.

Missouri, Texas, Florida and Oklahoma have carried out the death penalty this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Three people have died by lethal injection this year in Missouri, including Leonard “Raheem” Taylor, who maintained he was in another state when his girlfriend and her three children were murdered in 2004. He was convicted in 2008 and executed Feb. 7.

Amber McLaughlin was executed Jan. 3 and Michael Tisius was executed June 6.

Thirteen men including Williams remain on death row in Missouri. Johnny Johnson’s execution is scheduled for Aug. 1. and a date has been requested by Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey for Brian Dorsey.

Four people have been exonerated from death row in Missouri, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.