"That is not justice": Missouri sets execution date for a man who even prosecutors say is innocent

Republican Gov. Mike Parsons has refused to grant Marcellus Williams a pardon, despite exonerating DNA evidence

Published June 11, 2024 3:42PM (EDT)

Missouri Governor Mike Parson speaks during a press conference at Woodland High School on April 5, 2023 in Marble Hill, Missouri. (Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
Missouri Governor Mike Parson speaks during a press conference at Woodland High School on April 5, 2023 in Marble Hill, Missouri. (Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

The Missouri Supreme Court has set an execution date — September 24th at 6 p.m. —  for defendant Marcellus “Khaliifah” Williams, despite prosecutors insisting that he is completely innocent.

It is not the first time the 55-year-old has faced execution. On two separate occasions, Williams' execution was halted to conduct further investigation and DNA testing. The results, including DNA on the murder weapon, show no connection between him and the crime.

And now it seems the state’s Republican governor is refusing to free a man who prosecutors say is innocent, setting the stage for him to be put to death for a crime he does not appear to have committed.

On August 22nd, 2017, hours before his scheduled execution, former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens enacted a stay and ordered a board of inquiry to look into Williams' case. Last June, the new Gov. Mike Parson lifted the stay and dissolved the board, claiming that another six-year delay would defer justice and leave the victim’s family in “limbo.”

He ignored the findings from the report created by the five-member board put in place by Greitens. “This board was established nearly six years ago, and it is time to move forward,” he said.

That decision came despite evidence that Williams never should have been convicted based on the claims of a jailhouse informant and an ex-girlfriend who was herself seeking to avoid prison time. No physical evidence was ever presented that linked Williams to the crime.

In a court filing earlier this year, the office of St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell said that there was no way that Williams was in fact the killer. According to the filing, three DNA experts "each has independently concluded that Mr. Williams is excluded as the source of the male DNA on the handle of the murder weapon.”

Williams, who has always maintained his innocence, was originally convicted in 1998 after being accused of breaking into the home of Lisha Gayle, a social worker and one-time St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter. Prosecutors at the time alleged that Williams heard the shower running, found a butcher knife, and stabbed Gayle 43 times when she came downstairs, NBC affiliate KSDK reported

Critics say the state's top Republicans, including Attorney General Andrew Bailey, are ignoring all the evidence that has since come forward and are preparing to execute an innocent man.

“To date, no court has ever reviewed the DNA evidence proving Mr. Williams was not the individual who wielded the murder weapon and committed this crime,” said Tricia Bushnell, the executive director of the Midwest Innocence Project, The Kansas City Star reported. “Yet, the State successfully sought an execution date, highlighting the system’s emphasis on finality over innocence. That is not justice."

The court’s decision to schedule the execution is “alarming,” Williams' legal team said in a statement. But the decision does note that he can be spared death if the governor intervenes, as Parson enjoys “absolute discretion to grant clemency relief.”

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