Missouri Death Row Prisoner Files Lawsuit against Gov. Mike Parson for Disbanding Board of Inquiry Investigating Man’s Innocence

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By Cheyenne Galloway 

JEFFERSON CITY, MO – Death row inmate Marcellus Williams filed a civil lawsuit against Missouri Gov. Mike Parson this past week for disbanding the board of inquiry responsible for investigating Williams’ innocence and the setting of Williams’ execution date.

Williams currently faces the death penalty; however, DNA evidence from the crime points to his innocence, according to the Innocence Project.

Filed in Missouri’s 19th Circuit Court, the suit argues Gov. Parson breached the law and undermined Williams’ fundamental rights by setting a premature execution date and dissolving the board of inquiry before it could acquire a recommendation and report settling the matter and proving the accused’s innocence.

As explained by the co-founder of the Innocence Project, Barry C. Scheck, “The board of inquiry statute was created so that an independent group of retired judges had an opportunity to review all the evidence in a death penalty case, without any procedural or political obstructions, to make sure an innocent man or woman is not executed.”

Scheck added, “It’s a unique, fail-safe protection. By aborting the process before this distinguished group of jurists issued a report, Gov. Parson violated Mr. Williams’ due process rights under the state and federal constitutions to life and liberty.”

This statute passed in 1963 was designed to absolve individuals wrongfully convicted of a crime; the legislation allows a Missouri governor to enlist a board of judges to evaluate evidence of innocence for accused individuals facing the death penalty, said the Innocence Project.

Gov. Parson’s predecessor, Gov. Eric Greitens, had issued this executive order in 2017 to investigate the nature of Williams’ case; the order required the board to send the then-governor a report and recommendation outlining Marcellus Williams’ innocence and application for amnesty.

But Parson rescinded the executive order and terminated the five-member board assigned by Gov. Greitens to analyze the latest DNA evidence. Consequently, the civil lawsuit alleges Gov. Parson never received the report and recommendation required by Gov. Greitens’ executive order.

“The dissolution of the board of inquiry before a report or recommendation could be issued means that, to date, no judge has ruled on the full evidence of Mr. Williams’ innocence. Knowing that the state of Missouri still seeks to execute him. That is not justice,” said Tricia Rojo Bushnell, Williams’s representative and executive director of the Midwest Innocence Project

The defense maintains Williams was wrongly convicted for the murder of Felicia Gayle in 1998 and has spent the last 24 years of his life behind bars; however, no physical evidence linked Williams to the crime.

Only the testimony of two people led to the conviction of Williams, said the defense, adding the testimony was from two incentivized witnesses whose statements conflicted with their prior statements, each other’s statements, and the crime scene evidence.

After Williams’ conviction, the knife used in the stabbing underwent DNA testing in 2016. Although the testing detected male DNA presence, it excluded Williams as the culprit.

As reported by the Innocence Project, “The evidence has been reviewed and analyzed by three renowned DNA experts, all of whom concluded that Mr. Williams is not the source of the DNA. Furthermore, Mr. Williams was excluded as the source of the hairs found near Ms. Gayle’s body and as the source of bloody footprints found inside the house near the body.”

The defense said discovery of this DNA evidence prompted previous Gov. Greitens to administer a stay of execution in 2017 and rally a board of inquiry to review the latest evidence that supported Williams’ innocence.

The defense charges the disbandment of these orders by current Gov. Parson violated the jurisdiction of the statute and perpetuated the injustice faced by Williams.

“There is clear and convincing evidence that Marcellus Williams did not murder Ms. Gayle. It would be a terrible tragedy for the state to execute Mr. Williams before the board of inquiry completed its commission to make a report and recommendation to the governor as to whether or not Mr. Williams should be executed,” stated Williams’ co-counsel Charles Weiss.

About The Author

Cheyenne Galloway recently graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, with a double major in Political Science and Italian Studies. Graduating at the top of her class and achieving the distinction Laurea cum laude in her Italian Studies major, she showcases her enthusiasm for knowledge, finding ways to think critically and creatively. She is particularly interested in writing and reporting on social justice and human rights, but as a writing/reporting generalist, she enjoys researching and communicating various topics through written expression.

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