Missouri governor allows death penalty case to continue against man who cites DNA in innocence claim

A photo of Marcellus Williams from Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty.
A photo of Marcellus Williams from Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty.(Taken by Jeremy Weis, Federal Public Defender)
Published: Jun. 29, 2023 at 7:10 PM CDT
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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A death penalty case will continue against a Missouri man who is citing new DNA evidence in his innocence claim for the stabbing death of a former newspaper reporter, the governor announced Thursday.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson dissolved a panel of five former judges who had been tasked with reviewing Marcellus Williams’ case and ended a stay on his execution. No execution date has been set yet.

Williams was convicted of killing former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Lisha Gayle during a 1998 burglary at her home in University City. Gayle, 42, was a reporter at the Post-Dispatch from 1981 to 1992 before leaving to do social work.

“This Board was established nearly six years ago, and it is time to move forward,” Parson 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.”

Parson said “everyone will receive certainty” once the case is settled in court.

Williams’ lawyer did not immediately return an Associated Press request for comment Thursday.

Williams was hours away from execution in 2017 when former Gov. Eric Greitens stepped in and ordered the investigation.

Greitens’ action followed the release of new DNA testing unavailable at the time of the killing: DNA found on the murder weapon matched another unknown person, not Williams.

The former St. Louis County prosecutor has said that there is no chance Williams is innocent, citing ample amounts of other evidence.

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 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 St. Louis cell with Williams in 1999 while Williams was jailed 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 out for a $10,000 reward.