In the Bible Belt, Christmas Isn’t Coming to Death Row

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When it comes to the death penalty, guilt or innocence shouldn’t really matter to Christians.  

NASHVILLE — Until August, Tennessee had not put a prisoner to death in nearly a decade. Last Thursday, it performed its third execution in four months.
This was not a surprising turn of events. In each case, recourse to the courts had been exhausted. In each case Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, declined to intervene, though there were many r…

Missouri: Death row inquiry on hold after Greitens' resignation

Gov. Eric Greitens
The fate of a Missouri death row inmate whose execution was halted last year after DNA evidence raised questions about his case is on hold as a result of former Gov. Eric Greitens' resignation.

Marcellus Williams, 49, was hours away from being put to death in August when Greitens halted the execution. Williams was convicted of fatally stabbing former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Lisha Gayle during a 1998 burglary at her suburban St. Louis home, but DNA evidence found on the murder weapon matched another unknown person.

Greitens, a Republican, appointed a board of inquiry made up of five retired judges to look into the case. The board was scheduled to meet Tuesday in the governor's office but canceled, citing confusion about whether its authority continues after Greitens resigned last week.

Greitens left office after months of investigations related to a 2015 extramarital affair and his alleged use of a charity donor list for political purposes. He was replaced by Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Parson.

It's unclear whether Parson will keep the inquiry board intact. The board has suspended its work pending guidance from Parson, the governor's spokeswoman, Kelli Jones, said.

Nimrod Chapel, president of the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP and a supporter of Williams', urged the governor to allow the panel to continue its work.

"Gov. Greitens' issues are their own, but one thing he got right was ensuring that we are going to be dead certain that we are executing the right person for the right crime. I think that's a piece of leadership we need to hold onto in Missouri, and one that we need to continue," Chapel said.

Despite the DNA claim, St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch said last year that there was "zero possibility" Williams was 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 later 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 2 later.

Prosecutors also cited testimony from Henry Cole, who shared a cell with Williams in 1999 while Williams was jailed in St. Louis 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 who were out for a $10,000 reward.

Gayle, 42, was a reporter at the Post-Dispatch from 1981 to 1992. She left journalism to do social work.

Source: Associated Press, June 6, 2018

NAACP, local advocates host rally to free Marcellus Williams

Marcellus Williams
Around 25 people gathered Tuesday at the steps of the Missouri Supreme Court to rally for the exoneration of Marcellus Williams, a death-row inmate they say is innocent.

The rally, hosted by the NAACP and Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, sought not only to bring attention to the case of Williams, but also the need for criminal justice reform in Missouri. Williams' only son, Marcellus Williams II, and a coalition of local advocates - including at least 2 Missourians who were exonerated after spending decades in prison - attended.

"We're here to support justice, equality and fairness in the state of Missouri," said Nimrod Chapel, Jr., president of the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP. "Today is a day for Marcellus Williams, a man who needs justice now more than ever."

Williams was convicted in 2001 for the murder of St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Lisha Gayle. In 2015, the Missouri Supreme Court stayed his initial execution date to test the DNA evidence from the scene for the first time. In response to public outcry maintaining Williams' innocence, former Gov. Eric Greitens stayed Williams' 2nd execution date in August 2017, just hours before he was set to be put to death. Greitens commissioned a 5-person board of inquiry to review Williams' case. The board was scheduled to meet early Tuesday, but the meeting was canceled after Greitens resigned last week.

In Greitens' final day in office, he issued 5 pardons - none included Williams.

Current Gov. Mike Parson has not commented publicly on the case, Chapel said.

Williams always has maintained his innocence. Rita Linhardt, senior staff associate at Missouri Catholic Conference, brought up multiple issues with Williams' case.

"Truth lies in the forensic evidence, none of which ties Mr. Williams to the crime," Linhardt said. "Neither the hairs on the victim, the fingernail clippings nor the bloody footprints tie Mr. Williams to the crime."

DNA tests conducted on the murder weapon did not incriminate Williams, Linhardt said.

The primary evidence against Williams came from 2 witnesses who were paid for their testimony. One admitted later that she "set up" Williams to get the money, according to a news release for the event.

Linhardt said that attendees seek justice not only for Williams, but also for Gayle, whose death was "senseless."

"Justice demands truth - the truth of what really happened that day to Ms. Gayle," Linhardt said.

Missouri Catholic Conference submits clemency applications to the governor for death-row inmates like Williams. They've submitted 87 so far - 2 of those for Williams, Linhardt said.

Williams' son attended Parson's swearing-in ceremony Friday, hoping to find out how Parson would respond to his dad's case, and to discuss prison reform.

Williams II was 9 years old when his dad was convicted. He's 27 now, but he said he still remembers the photos of Gayle's body - she was stabbed repeatedly - presented as evidence in court. When he saw them, he had to leave the room.

"It was really hard for me. I was a kid; it was painful," Williams II said. "I couldn't believe, and still don't, that my father was able to do something like this to this woman."

Williams II is now a professional fighter, but he said his battles happen daily, outside the ring.

"I've been fighting my whole life - that's just how it is, especially when you're a black man in America," Williams II said. "And people say that's the race card. But man, that's the 'real life' card. That's the world we live in. You've got to fight to be equal."

Source: myleaderpaper.org, June 6, 2018

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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