Marcellus Williams is scheduled to die on Wednesday in Missouri for the 1998 murder of Felicia Gayle, a former reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper, but his lawyers claim that new DNA evidence proves he is innocent.
In a brief asking the United States Supreme Court to halt the execution, defense lawyer Kent Gipson argues that techniques that were not available at Williams' trial in 2001 have provided "conclusive scientific evidence that another man committed the crime." DNA found on the knife that was used to stab Gayle 43 times and in hairs found on her shirt and fingernails does not match Williams'. Neither did footprints found at the scene of the crime.
Attorney General Josh Hawley's office is still convinced that Williams is guilty based on other, non-DNA evidence—chiefly the testimony of Williams' girlfriend and former cell mate, both of whom were reportedly seeking a $10,000 reward. In addition, some of the victim's personal items were found in Williams' trunk weeks after the murder when he was picked up on an unrelated charge.
Williams maintains his innocence, and his supporters argue racial discrimination also played a role in his trial outcome. Samuel Spital, the director of Litigation at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Legal Defense & Educational Fund, told CNN that prosecutors struck six out of seven potential black jurors because the defendant was black and the victim white.
"The prosecutor offered as a race 'neutral' explanation for one of the strikes that the black juror looked like Mr. Williams and that the juror worked for the Post Office, even though the same prosecutor raised no objection to a white juror who worked for the Post Office," Spital told CNN. "Whatever one's views of capital punishment, it is both morally and constitutionally intolerable for a death sentence to be imposed if the defendant is innocent or if the verdict is marred by racial discrimination."
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the request for a stay of execution tomorrow.