On Tuesday, Missouri is scheduled to execute a man in exactly the kind of case that makes even some supporters of the death penalty queasy.
Way back in 2001, Marcellus Williams was found guilty in the grisly 1998 stabbing death of 42-year-old Lisha Gayle, a former St. Louis newspaper reporter so altruistic that she left journalism to become a volunteer who worked with the disenfranchised.
Williams, who is also serving multiple life sentences on unrelated burglary and robbery charges, had, according to prosecutors, been burglarizing Gayle’s apartment when she stepped out of the shower, surprised him and fought back as he killed her.
Only there was never any physical evidence linking Williams to the crime, according to his attorneys and Amnesty International.
Now his attorneys say that new evidence, based on new testing that the court allowed, shows Williams is not a match for the male DNA found on the knife that was the murder weapon.
Instead, an analysis by Greg Hampikian, a Boise State University biologist, shows that the DNA is that of an unknown male.
Why allow the testing and then disregard what it finds?
Williams, who is 48, has always maintained his innocence and said the case against him is based entirely on the word of a former girlfriend and a former cellmate who he insists were only looking for a piece of the $10,000 reward offered in the case.
What harm would it do to make sure he’s guilty?
We can’t think of any, especially compared to the wrong of putting a man to death for a crime he didn’t commit.
The Missouri Supreme Court has denied a petition to delay Williams’ execution, so unless the governor or Supreme Court intervenes, he’ll be given a lethal injection at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
A spokesman for Attorney General Josh Hawley said he’s still confident that Williams is guilty.
But why not make sure the public can be confident of that, too?
We urge the court to appoint a special master to hear Williams’ claim of innocence.
Missourians deserve to know for sure that he really is guilty before putting him to death in our name.
And the memory of Lisha Gayle, who worked with the poor and with children, would only be dishonored by an injustice carried out in retribution for the violence done to her.