On June 4, 2024, the Missouri Supreme Court set a September 24, 2024, execution date for death-sentenced prisoner Marcellus Williams (pictured), despite serious doubts that he was not involved in the murder for which he is incarcerated. The announcement came just hours after the state Supreme Court ruled that Governor Mike Parson did not violate any rules when he dissolved a board of inquiry established in June 2023 by his predecessor, Eric Greitens, to investigate Mr. William’s claim of innocence. Judge Zel Fisher wrote for the Court’s unanimous opinion holding that the “Missouri Constitution vests the governor with exclusive constitutional authority to grant or deny clemency and [Mr.] Williams has no statutory or due process right to the board of inquiry process.” In August 2023, attorneys with The Midwest Innocence Project, on behalf of Mr. Williams, filed a suit arguing that Gov. Parson did not have the authority to dissolve the board, as its members had not issued their recommendations. The day after the dissolution of the inquiry board, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey asked the state Supreme Court to set an execution date for Mr. Williams.

In January 2024, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney (DA) Wesley Bell filed a motion in the St. Louis County Circuit Court, seeking to vacate Mr. Williams’ death sentence pursuant to a 2021 Missouri law that allows prosecutors to intervene in cases when there is evidence suggesting innocence. In his motion to the Court, DA Bell noted that “this never before considered evidence, when paired with the relative paucity of other, credible evidence supporting guilt, as well as additional considerations of ineffective assistance of counsel and racial discrimination in jury selection, casts inexorable doubt on Mr. Williams’ conviction and sentence.” DA Bell has requested the Court to schedule a hearing to examine the DNA evidence and other flaws in the state’s case against Mr. Williams.

Mr. Williams was sentenced to death for the 1998 killing of local newspaper reporter Felicia Gayle but has always maintained his innocence. There is no physical evidence tying Mr. Williams to the crime scene and for many years, the trial court refused to allow DNA testing of some of the evidence that was collected by investigators. In 2015, Mr. Williams was granted permission for DNA testing of the murder weapon, which revealed a male DNA profile inconsistent with that of Mr. Williams. Despite the potential significance of this testing, the Court refused to allow Mr. Williams to present it during post-conviction proceedings and ultimately scheduled an execution for August 2017. Just hours ahead of Mr. Williams’ scheduled execution, then-Gov. Greitens stayed the execution through executive order and empaneled a board of five former judges to investigate Mr. Williams’ case.

At Mr. Williams’ trial, the prosecution relied largely on the testimony of two individuals: a jailhouse informant and Mr. Williams’ former girlfriend. Both witnesses were facing unrelated criminal charges and stood to benefit from testifying for the state and against Mr. Williams. Their testimony shifted throughout the course of questioning and often contradicted the physical evidence recovered from the crime scene. In addition to the never-presented DNA evidence, as well as evidence of racial discrimination in jury selection, DA Bell believes that it is his job to “correct this manifest injustice by seeking a hearing on the newfound evidence and the integrity of Mr. Williams’ conviction.” Tricia Rojo Bushnell, an attorney with The Midwest Innocence Project, said that her office will continue its fight to prove Mr. Williams’ innocence. “We look forward to presenting the evidence of his innocence in court alongside St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell, who has filed a motion to vacate Mr. Williams’ conviction. This injustice can still be rights,” said Ms. Bushnell.