08.23.2017 by @51kikey
With a little over four hours of life left, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens stayed the execution of Marcellus Williams, in a decision that spoke of common sense. Whether or not this decision is but a delay in proceedings will be decided by a Board of Inquiry that will be formed by Gov Greitens. Whilst not unprecedented, these occurrences are unus
ual. Whatever lies ahead for Williams may not necessarily just determine his fate but those of future appellants. If Justice Reform is to take shape, it will require steps forward, as exhibited by Gov Greitens. This case could hopefully become a template for further cases baring resemblance.
Williams, convicted of murdering Lisha Gayle in August of 1998 was seeking clemency over recent DNA findings by independent forensic scientists that refute the possibility of his DNA being on the murder weapon amongst other evidence. Avenues of appeal were nearly closed after the Missouri Supreme Court denied Williams’ latest appeal without explanation earlier this month. Gov Greitens ruling offered hope when nearly all had gone.
“A sentence of death is the ultimate, permanent punishment,” stated Gov Greitens. “To carry out the death penalty, the people of Missouri must have confidence in the judgment of guilt.”
Along with Scientists, Lawyers and The Midwest Innocence project, ably supported by The Innocence project, the people of Missouri did speak. It was not only the Missouri people who spoke however. It was the people of the United States and even further afield that used social media to voice their opinion and help aid the legal process by signing petitions and voicing their support, and more importantly concern. Nina Morrison, Senior Staff Attorney for The Innocence Project offered praise and support of the Governor’s decision whilst citing the burning issue of capital punishment still available to 31 States in the US. “We are relieved and grateful that Gov. Greitens halted Missouri’s rush to execution and appointed a Board of Inquiry to hear the new DNA and other evidence supporting Mr. Williams’ innocence. While many Americans hold different views on the death penalty, there is an overwhelming consensus that those sentenced to death should be given due process and a full hearing on all their claims before an execution, and the Governor’s action honors that principle.”
Williams’ own counsel were understandably encouraged by the decision. News of which was delivered in person at the Bonne Terre Correctional Facility where Williams was being readied for his execution by co-counsel to Kent E Gipson. Gipson explained that he was “looking forward to the chance to get all this out in the open’. In relation to the upcoming Board of Inquiry Gipson stated that he did not know what to expect but that he anticipated no action from the State before first hearing from the United States Supreme Court. The Midwest Innocence Project made available Gov Greitens Executive Order shortly after the stay had been announced on Tuesday afternoon. While littered with the appropriate legal verbiage, Gov Greitens further alluded to 5 additional conditions to the order itself. The full Executive Order is below.
The five additional conditions put forth by Gov Greitens offers room for discovery and within it promises of resolutions to problematic questions raised at the previous trial with the addition of newly discovered DNA evidence that was not available at the time. This is of high importance as the Board of Inquiry will not be limited to facts which the 2001 jury were. Whilst consideration has been deemed necessary that the jurors opinions should be accounted for, the decision process that will determine William’s fate can now be updated and from there amended. Within the additional conditions it is also noted that along with newly discovered DNA evidence, any other relevant evidence not available to the jury should be used when making a decision whether to stand by the conviction and execute or grant clemency.
Don’t expect details of the Board’s findings to be released publicly. Governor Greitens, while issuing the Board of Inquiry subpoena powers over both ‘persons’ and ‘things’ via the Circuit Court of Cole County amongst others has made it clear that proceedings will be closed. All collected information resulting from their investigation will be held by its members in strict confidence. So what do we the concerned public make of this? After all, even Gipson was unsure of the road ahead relating to ‘Boards of Inquiry’ and the power with which they are now assigned. An intervention, staying the execution of a man whose case certainly appears to suggest reasonable doubt is clearly positive. However, it will be over the coming months and dare I say it, possibly years that will we see how this case, and potentially others might shape the way for things to come. Although not unprecedented, there is certainly a feeling of closed doors becoming ajar.
Often the case that after a frenzy there is a lull. The furor that was witnessed via social media yesterday most certainly had an effect. Whether this outpouring of support and concern will, in this immediate case have a bearing on the final judgement is unclear. The fact that the public are taking action, whether it be solely behind their computer screens is important. I followed closely on Twitter the events that unfolded yesterday. The positive reality from what I saw was an educated protest. A feeling that common sense should and then was adopted, ran through the majority of pleas towards Governor Eric Greitens. Public involvement should be nurtured. The work done behind the scenes by Scientists, Lawyers and Innocence Project professionals should be cherished. It is all too easy to look unfavourably on professions because of the very select few who are not fit for their chosen taking. The work done by these organisations is often merely expected or even ignored. Marcellus Williams owes his stay of execution mostly to them.
Time has the power to dilute this heady story. The next dialogue looks likely to come from the United States Supreme Court. Then to the ‘Board of Inquiry and their findings’. Yesterday was a reminder that unexpected things do happen in the often dogmatic world of Justice Reform. No resting on laurels though, as this is just a step in the right direction. One thing that bothers me though is this.
Marcellus Williams only gained that which was owed to him yesterday. There are many others that are not afforded that right.
Yesterday was still a very good day.
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