By Richard Ray:
UPDATE: Missouri Governor Eric Greitens has issued a stay to the scheduled execution based on the new DNA evidence.
Marcellus Williams is scheduled to be executed tomorrow in Missouri. In 1998 he was convicted in the death of former St. Louis Dispatch reporter Felicia Gayle, 42. She was murdered in her home in 1998, having been stabbed 43 times.
Marcellus was convicted after a trial in 2001, in which some DNA evidence did not appear to be available or used. Recently his defense team was able to show that his DNA was not found on the murder weapon, though the DNA of another (unknown) man was found. Marcellus Williams’ DNA was not found in the hair sample left at the crime scene and his footprint did not match the one found at the scene. The non-scientific evidence that the DA is still holding to affirm the justification of Marcellus’ conviction was testimony of a cellmate and Williams’ girlfriend at the time who claimed Marcellus confessed separately to the killing and the fact that some personal belongings of the victim and her husband, including a laptop, were recovered from a car Marcellus William drove.
I do not believe, and have never seen any empirical data in its support, that the death penalty in any ways works as a deterrence to crime. The death penalty is a purely punitive reaction to crime; an eye for an eye. In some egregious instances (hurting kids and women) I can get behind the idea that some people need to minimally lose their lives as punishment for their wrongs. However, I am also well aware of the fact that since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 Blacks and Latinos have been disproportionately executed in the United States.
According to statistics complied by the Death Penalty Information Center, through July 28, 2017, 503 Blacks have been executed (34.5%), 120 Latinos (8%) and 812 Whites (55.6%). Whites are roughly 72% of the US population while Blacks are 12-13%. The race of the victims for the cases chosen for executions is also disproportionate along racial lines; 327 Blacks (15.3%), 149 Latino (6.9%) and 1618 White (75.6%).
The disproportionate unfairness and sociological reasoning behind death penalty sentencing aside, we must also understand that issues within our judicial system make it prudent that we must always err on the side of caution when it comes to executing people. The emotions that are spurred by the heinous nature of a crime can not overrule the evidentiary basis that must be followed in death penalty cases. In order to put a person to death, beyond a reasonable doubt is no longer sufficient. There must be zero doubt, and in the case of Marcellus Williams there appears to be significant doubt related to his guilt.
People can not pick and choose when scientific and DNA evidence is only adequate to convict but not necessarily acquit. A last minute appeal has been made to the US Supreme Court, but ultimately Conservative, Republican Missouri Governor Eric Greitens has the ability to stay the execution.
The new DNA evidence is minimally compelling enough to allow the courts to get it absolutely right. Conservatives and pro death penalty people are usually pro life zealots related to abortions. I have never fully understood how you can be so opposed to death in one instance but so for it in another. Regardless of where you may stand on the issue, what is most important is that there should never be a person executed when any “real” form of doubt exists as to that person’s guilt or innocence.
In worst case scenarios our justice system has exhibited corruptness (which is not being alleged in this particular case). At its best, it is still imperfect with witness testimony, a proven flawed element of human recollection and identification. Barring the US Supreme Court staying the execution, Gov. Greitens must. Let the new scientific evidence be truly heard. If it is disproven then Marcellus Williams is in no jeopardy of leaving prison… but if correct… a man should never be executed if any doubt exists as to the crime committed.
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