Missouri is, once again, about to execute an innocent man. His name is Marcellus Williams. I’ve written about Marcellus before, back in 2017, hours before his slated execution, hours before he received a stay from then Governor Eric Greitens. Unfortunately, GOP Governor Mike Parson illegally rescinded the stay in direct violation of Missouri law. Now, we are back where we started, with Marcellus Williams facing the death chamber for a murder he didn’t commit.
One last thing–Marcellus Williams is a black man and Felicia Gayle was a prominent white woman with a wealthy husband. Put bluntly, systemic racism and prosecutorial ‘misconduct’ are alive and well in the ‘Show Me’ state.
Background information recap….
Marcellus Williams was charged with the murder of St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Felicia Gayle in 1998. He was convicted of her murder without a single shred of direct physical evidence linking him to the crime. He faced a nearly all-white jury, (one juror was black), and was given the death sentence in 2014.
He has been on Missouri’s death row ever since.
Marcellus’ DNA was never found at the crime scene…
DNA evidence taken from the crime scene, using older techniques originally excluded Marcellus from the suspect pool. According to the AP, “Previous DNA testing of hairs from Gayle’s shirt and fingernails excused Williams too”…”Footprints at the scene also did not match Williams.”
Countering the defense claim in 2017, Loree Anne Paradise, Deputy Chief of Staff for then Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, casually dismissed the lack of direct physical evidence against Marcellus claiming…”Based on the other, non-DNA evidence in this case, our office is confident in Marcellus Williams’ guilt and plans to move forward.” Note how Ms. Paradise conveniently omitted any specifics regarding the alleged “non-DNA evidence.” It should also be noted that Paradise now works as Chief of Staff for Georgia Lt. Governor Burt Jones, the same official presently facing a special prosecutor criminal investigation regarding election meddling by Trump in Georgia. Though this coincidence is not indicative of Ms. Paradise or her veracity, it does place doubt on who she chooses to defend and support. Such career decisions imply a pattern of valuing upper career mobility and political expediency, over evidence and truth.
The new DNA evidence…
New DNA evidence evaluated in 2017, once again, excludes Marcellus as a suspect.
The new analysis techniques, not available at the time of his conviction, are far more accurate than earlier DNA tests, which also excluded Marcellus from the suspect pool. And yet, none of the direct physical evidence backed up by scientific analysis mattered, since to date, the appeals courts have consistently refused to view the evidence in this death row case.
Remember, Marcellus Williams was sent to Death Row on zero physical evidence and the suspected suborned perjured testimony of two jailhouse snitches. The story of Marcellus Williams unjust conviction is all about prosecutorial ‘misconduct’, judicial indifference to direct evidence, political ambition of former attorney generals, and the largest elephant in the room–rabid systemic racism.
The stay of execution granted in 2017…that Governor Parsons illegally rescinded….
In 2017, Marcellus was granted a stay of execution by then Governor Eric Greitens just hours before entering the death chamber.
The stay of execution was coupled with a mandatory board of inquiry in accordance with a new Missouri law, cited as Missouri Revised Statutes section 552.070. The board of inquiry was charged with investigating the accumulated evidence and producing a report of their findings. Only after the findings were documented in an official written report would the stay of execution either lapse or the prisoner would be exonerated. This new law was a response to the frequent conviction and executions of innocent people in Missouri.
Missouri Governor Mike Parson rescinded the stay of execution before the board of inquiry produced the mandatory report of findings, in direct violation of Missouri law. Marcellus Williams with the assistance of Innocence Project attorneys filed a lawsuit against the governor a few weeks ago.
Ferguson prosecutor responsible for wrongful conviction–again…
The prosecution was led by then St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, aka the ‘Ferguson prosecutor.’ (Source) Trial facts are damning in their clear description of prosecutorial criminality. Marcellus Williams never had a chance in court.
According to the Innocence Project, a nonprofit defending those believed to be wrongfully convicted of murder, the facts of the case were not merely wrong, but evidence suggests that the police and prosecution suborned perjured testimony in return for payment, whether the payment involved dropped charges or actual monetary gain. Here are the facts of record.
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Felicia Gayle was brutally murdered in 1998, when she interrupted a robbery of her home. Marcellus Williams was charged with the murder and convicted by a jury composed of a single black juror and 11 white jurors. According to watchdog group, Injustice Watch…”The jury deliberated less than two hours before finding Williams guilty, and debated for 90 minutes before recommending the death sentence, which was upheld on appeal.”
- There was never any direct physical evidence connecting Marcellus to the murder. The University City, Mo. police found bloody shoe prints, but concluded they did not belong to Marcellus. Additional biological evidence from the scene was collected and tested. None of the biological evidence belonged to Marcellus. There was no witness testimony from neighbors or others in the vicinity tying Marcellus to the scene, even though the murder occurred in the middle of the day.
- Marcellus was convicted solely on suspected suborned perjury of two ‘jailhouse snitches’ who were allegedly ‘incentivized’ by the prosecution, and a third witness whose full claim was blocked by the judge. No explanation was given for the judge’s action.
- The witnesses…
The Innocence Project called out the testimony of prosecution witnesses as …”unreliable testimony of two incentivized witnesses.” The level of polite understatement in this statement merely serves to underscore the professionalism of Innocence Project attorneys. Put bluntly, the two central prosecution witnesses gave suspected perjured testimony, since there is the unspoken issue of actual monetary payment for those testimonies. The issue of payment for testimony should have been investigated as possible subornation of perjury by the prosecution. The facts are damning.
Prosecution witness #1 – Henry Cole….
One of the prosecution’s witnesses, Henry Cole, provided a statement to police on June 4, 1999. Cole claimed that Marcellus Williams admitted to committing the murder when both men were in prison. Details of Henry Cole’s testimony were suspiciously similar to what had already been published in the media. Did police and/or prosecutors ‘feed’ the testimony they wanted to Cole? Attorneys for Marcellus interviewed Cole’s family in depth. Family members called out Cole as a known liar. Though Cole initially refused to cooperate with prosecutors as a witness in the case, he changed his mind–and story–after receiving $5000.00 from those same prosecutors, as documented in a 2001 deposition conducted by the Innocence Project.
Cole received preferential treatment after breaking probation…
Cole was convicted of armed robbery dating back to 1996. According to records obtained by the Innocence Project, Cole was sentenced to four years probation, with a 10 year prison sentence—suspended. Cole violated the terms of his probation SIX times, but never received the actual prison sentence as would be the expectation. The question is why?
Prosecution witness #2 – Laura Asaro…
The second witness against Marcellus Williams was his ex-girlfriend, Laura Asaro. According to the Innocence Project, she had …”a history of deception and had faced solicitation charges when police initially approached her about the case in Nov. 1999.” The Innocence Project further documented that she …”worked with the police before and had testified against Mr. Williams in a previous trial. She even lied under oath in her recorded deposition regarding her arrest history. At some stage, police had considered charging her as an accomplice in the crime.”
If this sequence of events fails to place doubt in the prosecution’s case against Marcellus Williams, consider something far more damning, namely that Asaro herself …”mentioned to her neighbor that she was receiving money for her testimony against Mr. Williams.”
If fully validated, then not only was Laura Asaro’s testimony another product of prosecutor or police efforts to suborn perjury–an actual felony–but also a product of bribery. Once this claim surfaced, prosecutors and police should have also been criminally investigated, yet to date no such accountability has been provided.
Further evidence of perjured testimony by prosecution witnesses… Cole & Ansaro….
The testimony from both of these witnesses not only contradicted each other’s stories, but neither witness’ claims were consistent with the limited physical evidence at the scene of the crime. Innocence Project attorneys pointed out that Asaro’s testimony included a claim that Marcellus Williams received scratch marks presumably from the murder victim but no foreign DNA was discovered underneath the victim’s fingernails.
- No actual evidence connects Marcellus Williams to the murder….
Once again, the Innocence Project concluded that based on the evidence presented during trial, nothing connects Marcellus Williams to the murder of Felicia Gayle. Even though she was stabbed 16 times with a kitchen knife “protruding from her neck,” no DNA evidence was present linking Marcellus Williams to the grisly crime. None.
- The actual damning physical evidence of innocence….
Innocence Project attorneys explained that …”In 2016, post-conviction DNA testing conducted on the handle of that knife detected the presence of male DNA and excluded Mr. Williams as the source.
DNA samples from the crime scene using new analysis techniques…”entirely excluded Mr. Williams as a contributor, contradicting the testimony-based evidence used to convict him.”
There is no other actual direct evidence proving prosecutor and police claims.
- No court has reviewed the new DNA evidence…why?
No appeals court has reviewed the actual DNA evidence which was analyzed by three renowned DNA experts. The new report definitively states that Marcellus Williams was 100% excluded from the DNA pool, aka his DNA was not present at the scene. This is perhaps the most damning fact of the case. Appeals Court judges are basing their refusal to review new evidence, on PROCEDURAL norms, and not the only legitimate evidence in the entire case.
- Prosecutorial criminal misconduct…
Throughout the media coverage of this case, prosecutorial criminal misconduct was referred to as ‘incentivizing’ witness testimony. Let’s call this criminal act what it truly is–felony subornation of perjury by prosecutors.
Subornation of perjury is defined as…”the crime of encouraging, inducing or assisting another in the commission of perjury, which is knowingly telling an untruth under oath.”
This has been a staple strategy of far too many prosecutors. This illegal strategy was further cited by the Ninth Circuit in the case of Baca v. Adams.
The issue of prosecutorial misconduct by suborning perjury is commonplace in the United States, and it appears to have taken place here in Missouri.
Prosecutorial Misconduct in the USA….
Prosecutorial ‘misconduct’ should be viewed for what it is–namely criminality. Peter A. Joy, of the Washington University in St. Louis- School of Law, writing for the Wisconsin Law Review posits three factors which when combined allow for a ‘perfect storm’ of prosecutorial corruption. The three factors are: …”vague ethics rules that provide ambiguous guidance to prosecutors; vast discretionary authority with little or no transparency; and inadequate remedies for prosecutor misconduct.”
Joy continues by explaining how …”these three conditions create perverse incentives for prosecutors to engage in, rather than refrain from, prosecutorial misconduct.” https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=948307
Professor Joy makes a diplomatic case for what should be considered criminality. His paper suggests …”modest, concrete proposals to reduce the incidence of prosecutorial misconduct.” He adds that the …”ultimate purpose”…of such proposals as he cited in his paper would be to …”prevent wrongful convictions and not to impose unnecessary obligations or unrealistic expectations on prosecutors.” https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=948307
Such meager suggestions will not reform a corrupt system, nor will it recover years or even decades stolen from innocent people. Such meager suggestions will not restore lives brutally taken in the state’s death chambers. Like placing a bandaid on a malignant cancer, prosecutorial corruption will continue to metastasize while hiding behind the masquerade of deliberative justice. This is not the solution. This is merely a way to appease critics while further enabling systemic prosecutorial corruption, which has been documented by the Innocence Project.
Specifically, the California Innocence Project documented a list of cases which serve as prime examples of this state sanctioned criminality. And yet, while a few prosecutors may receive a ‘slap on the wrist’, Marcellus Williams may very well be murdered by the state, in spite of scientific evidence proving his innocence. Unfortunately, he will not be the last innocent man executed in the name of judicial expediency.
Below are the cited cases:
- Caldwell v. Mississippi, 472 U.S. 320 (1985), prosecutors misstated the law when arguing to the jury.
- Mooney v. Holohan, 294 U.S. 103 (1935), prosecutors knowingly used perjured testimony.
- Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) prosecutors suppressed evidence favorable to the defendant that might have led to a not guilty verdict.
- United States v. Schlep, 122 F.3d 944 (11th Cir. 1997) prosecutors ignored their obligation to disclose to the defense special treatment or promises of immunity they had given to a government witness in exchange for testimony against the defendant.
- United States v. Doyle, 121 F.3d 1078 (7th Cir. 1997), the prosecutor failed to disclose that the government had presented false evidence against the defendant.
Though prosecutorial criminality is part of the problem, the appeal system is another.
When appeals courts place procedure above actual evidence….
We live in a nation where death row convicts can receive multiple continuances and procedural delays which grants the appearance of fair play. Unfortunately, the truth of our unjust ‘justice’ system is far more ugly. More often than not, appeals courts refuse to consider new evidence, even evidence that definitively proves innocence, on the basis of judicial procedural norms.
The Death Penalty Information Center…judicial procedure supersedes evidence….
The Death Penalty Information Center is an advocacy group fighting for justice. They have cited a simple yet egregious injustice in the system, namely that…”evidence that a defendant could capitalize on at trial has less potency on appeal. Issues of law and procedure, rather than innocence, dominate.”
Legal Advocacy Group ‘Capital Punishment in Context’ also asserts that the appeals process regarding capital cases needs a major overhaul. There are relevant questions dealing with the conflict between new evidence which in many cases presents incontrovertible proof of innocence vs. the issue of procedural rules of conduct engineered for expediency. Bluntly put, the U.S. ‘justice’ system has sanctioned expediency over actual proof.
Prosecutorial criminal behavior has not only been tolerated, but reduced to the euphemism we dub as ‘prosecutorial misconduct,’ as if suspected subornation of perjury or suppression of evidence were an unfortunate oversight as opposed to vicious criminal behavior. When you pair the premeditated criminality of prosecutors determined to win at any cost, with the fact that the office of prosecutor is too often a political stepping stone to higher office, you have a formula for gross injustice. The criminality of prosecutors determined to win at any cost has been met by the legal and judicial community with polite yawns and quiet enabling.
Prosecutorial ‘misconduct’ in this capital case has resulted in sending an innocent man, namely Marcellus Williams, to Death Row. When you pair this with judicial indifference hiding under the rubric of ‘procedural norms’ you have a formula for systemic injustice.
In this nation, delivering a guilty verdict on a capital murder case requires the prosecution to prove …”the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,”
This burden was not met in the Marcellus Williams trial. Instead, we have a governor determined to ‘fry a black man’. Rather than wait for the legally mandated board of inquiry to produce the findings of their investigation, findings that would probably prove prosecutorial misconduct, Governor Mike Parson rescinded the stay of execution in direct violation of Missouri law.
The systemic criminality and subsequent cover-up of prosecutors is not limited to Missouri, or to the republican party. The Ferguson prosecutor, Bob McCulloch was a registered democrat. This injustice is rooted in systemic racism and enabled by a judicial system that places ‘procedural norms’ above evidence, truth, and justice. Unless we reform this corrupt system, Marcellus Williams will not be the last innocent man to die on Missouri’s infamous–Death Row.
And, unless we reform this corrupt system, racist politicians will be rewarded with higher political offices–for–”frying a black man.”