Editorials

St. Louis County prosecutor must test DNA evidence before Missouri execution

Attorney Kent Gipson is racing against the clock to get St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCullough to test crime scene evidence that he thinks may exonerate his client, Marcellus Williams, who faces a Jan. 28 execution date.
Attorney Kent Gipson is racing against the clock to get St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCullough to test crime scene evidence that he thinks may exonerate his client, Marcellus Williams, who faces a Jan. 28 execution date. File illustration

Marcellus Williams was convicted and sentenced to death for a horrible crime, the 1998 murder of 42-year-old Felicia Gayle, a former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter and wife of a physician, during a robbery of her home.

But no physical evidence connected Williams to the crime scene in University City, near St. Louis. He was found guilty on the testimony of a drug-addicted former girlfriend and a jailhouse snitch, a career criminal with a history of mental illness, who came forth with their account almost a year after the crime was committed.

On Dec. 17, the Missouri Supreme Court announced an execution date of Jan. 28 for Williams.

His attorney, Kent Gipson of Kansas City, is now racing against the clock to get the St. Louis County prosecutor to conduct a DNA analysis and database search on physical evidence found at the crime scene that could not be matched to Williams, Gayle or her husband.

Gipson believes a match may exonerate his client. If there is the remotest possibility that may be the case, then St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCullough must do the testing.

The evidence included head hairs found on the victim’s shirt and the rug where her body was found, two pubic hairs found on the rug and blood and skin scrapings found underneath Gayle’s fingernails.

Williams’ defense at his original trial sought a continuance to have the evidence tested for DNA matches but was denied by the trial judge. Lawyers have made repeated requests for testing in post-conviction appeals, to no avail.

Gipson last month mailed a request directly to McCullough. McCullough, who was prosecutor at the time of Williams’ trial, has not responded.

McCullough has been in the news for his controversial handling of the grand jury that recommended Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson face no charges in the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. With the Williams case, McCullough has an opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to justice and fairness.

Williams, 45, has a long criminal record. But the state of Missouri must not execute someone if there is a shred of doubt about his role in a capital crime. If McCullough won’t voluntarily test the crime scene evidence, a state or federal court must order him to do so.

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