Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has issued a stay of execution for an inmate scheduled to be put to death Tuesday after new DNA evidence emerged.
Marcellus Williams, 48, was due for execution at 7 p.m. for the 1998 murder of 42-year-old Felicia Gayle, but after public outcry and the work of his Williams' defense attorneys, Greitens announced that a five-person board of inquiry will now review the case in light of new information.
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"A sentence of death is the ultimate, permanent punishment," Greitens said. "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."
The board will consider Williams’ clemency request and issue a report about whether he should be executed or have his sentence commuted, reports said.
DNA evidence from the murder weapon and the scene of the crime were not available during Williams' trial in 2001, according to court documents. Williams was convicted of brutally stabbing Gayle 43 times with a butcher knife while in her home, reports said.
DNA analysis of the knife used in the murder revealed no traces of Williams' DNA but did return traces of another man's DNA, CNN reported Tuesday.
Other DNA samples of hair taken from the crime scene reportedly did not match Williams either, and a footprint found at the scene also doesn't match Williams's shoes.
Prosecutors argued on Monday that other evidence still prove Williams was involved in the murder but the Innocence Project, which has been helping him, is pleased with the governor’s decision.
"We are relieved and grateful that Gov. 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," Morrison added.
Williams was scheduled to be executed in 2015 for the high-profile killing, but the state Supreme Court stayed his lethal injection, allowing him time to obtain the new DNA testing, The Washington Post reported.
“They’re never going to ever confront an actual innocence cause more persuading than this involving exonerating DNA evidence,” said Kent Gipson, one of Williams’s attorneys. “I’ve seen a lot of miscarriages of justice, but this one would take the cake.”