Missouri Governor Saves Martellus Williams From Execution For Now
Missouri’s Gov. Eric Greitens has issued a stay of execution for Martellus Williams, who was convicted of killing 42-year-old St. Louis newspaper reporter Lisha Gayle in 2001, three years after she was murdered in her home in a gated community. According to CNN reports, Greitens has appointed a board to further consider Williams’ case after his defense team presented new DNA evidence they say proves his innocence.
“A sentence of death is the ultimate, permanent punishment,” Greitens said in a statement. “To carry out the death penalty, the people of Missouri must have confidence in the judgment of guilt. In light of new information, I am appointing a Board of Inquiry in this case.”
Williams’ defense team says the tests showed that the male DNA on the murder weapon, a knife, was not Williams’ but belonged to a third, unknown person.
“In this case, there is conclusive scientific evidence that another man committed the crime,” the brief written by defense lawyer Kent Gipson said.
“There is no physical evidence, no eyewitnesses that directly connect Williams to the murder, the DNA on the weapon wasn’t his, the bloody footprint at the murder scene wasn’t from Williams’ shoe and was a different size, and the hair fibres found weren’t his,” said Gipson. “It was someone else that killed Gayle, not Williams.”
Prior to Greitens issuing a stay, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office had argued the execution should be carried out at as scheduled anyway because they believed the DNA evidence doesn’t overcome non-DNA evidence that connects Williams to the crime.
48-year-old Williams, who has always claimed his innocence, was originally due to be executed on January 28, 2015, but the Missouri Supreme Court previously postponed the execution to allow time for new DNA tests to be conducted.
According to Al-Jazeera reports, the prosecution in Williams’ trial based their case on the testimonies of Henry Cole, who shared a cell with Williams after he was taken into custody on suspicion of involvement in Gayle’s murder, and claimed he had confessed to killing Gayle. The other testimony against Williams came from Laura Asaro, a convicted drug addict who was Williams’ girlfriend briefly around the time of the murder. Asaro claimed she saw scratches on Williams’ neck that were made by the victim.
“These scratches would leave DNA traces on the victim, but Williams’ DNA was not found underneath the victim’s fingernails, just like it was someone else’s DNA that was found on the murder weapon,” said Gipson.
“She also claimed she saw Williams with the victim’s driver’s license, which is impossible because Gayle’s license was left at the crime scene.”
Gipson says Asaro and Cole may have been motivated to lie in hopes of receiving a financial reward.
“The victim’s family offered a reward of $10,000 for anyone with tips leading to the arrest of the person who murdered Lisha Gayle,” Gipson explained. “They both got paid by the victim’s family after their testimonies.”
With no forensic or eye witness testimony linking Williams to the murder, the prosecution based its case on these two witnesses. “At the time, we didn’t have the technology to do these DNA tests. But even now that there is indisputable scientific evidence exonerating Williams from the murder, the attorney general still thinks these testimonies hold more weight than the DNA evidence that shows Williams didn’t commit this crime,” Gipson said.
Williams’ legal team also say race played an important role in his conviction since he is black while the victim, Lisha Gayle was a white woman. There were seven African-American’s in the juror pool for Williams’ trial but the prosecution had all but one removed, resulting in a jury of 11 white people and one black juror. The team also says Williams’ public defender has publicly stated he wasn’t able to prepare properly for Williams’ case and didn’t have a chance to properly discredit the testimonies the case was built around.
We’re glad that Williams will have a chance at life. He deserves a fair trial. Racism in Missouri never fails to surprise us.