08.19.2017 by @51kikey
Marcellus Williams was arrested in November of 1999 for the murder of Felicia Gayle on August 11th the year prior. Up until a jailhouse informant disclosed details that Williams had admitted to the murder in June of 99 whilst being held for an unrelated arrest Gayle’s murder case had garnered no leads. With this newfound information, law enforcement talked with Williams’ ex-girlfriend who also disclosed details pertaining to his possible guilt. At the time of going to press, Marcellus Williams will be put to death this coming Tuesday.
I first heard of this case 24 hours ago. One whole day. Time related pressures can lead to focus but can also lead to errors. When I heard of Williams’ possible injustice I attempted to find as much possible information I could. One problem when sourcing information is that it’s just as easy to source mis-information. The real problem lies in being able to differentiate between the two. Williams’ situation does not lend itself to dithering however so I’ve had to make some compromised decisions. I have no strong opinions whether Williams is guilty or innocent. From what I have been able to source though, I do have a very strong opinion that Williams’ case requires further attention. I will go through what I believe to be reliable sources and attempt to explain why I believe it to be the case that Marcellus Williams should be granted an evidentiary hearing. Four days time is just around the corner and possible errors made in Williams’ case will not be rectifiable after that.
Questions have been raised relating to DNA evidence or, lack-of regarding Williams’ conviction. Until recent appeals, results of DNA testing on the murder weapon had not come to light. Bode Cellmark Forensics were tasked with as to whether Williams’ profile could be linked to that of the knife used to murder the victim. Gayle was stabbed 43 times with a large butchers knife with seven of the wounds deemed to be fatal. Their findings that Williams could not be excluded from the murder weapon as the results gathered were ‘inconclusive’ have been strongly countered by 2 further independent studies into the results from testing. Whilst integrity has not been questioned, internal protocols relating to Bode Cellmark Forensics have.
Amazingly the Missouri Supreme Court took less than one day to dismiss these reports by independent experts and also offered no reasoning as to why this was the case. All the more amazing as the man appealing, could have his life taken from him in just four days time. Surely if there is possibly an erroneous conviction that is leading to an imminent execution time should be taken and reasons given? Added to the findings of two independent experts that Williams’ DNA was proven to not be present on the murder weapon is the presence of an unknown 3rd parties DNA. Coupled with the fact that skin cells found under Gayle’s fingernails were not that of Williams and no DNA pertaining to the convicted was found at the crime scene, an evidentiary hearing should be granted in my opinion. My opinion is not based purely on DNA findings however.
Ineffective counsel is an often used term to lay the blame squarely at a defence counsel’s door. It is often easier to blame the individual than the system itself. Unreasonable workloads and the vast disparity in funds used to defend and prosecute defendants tend towards an uneven playing field. Ineffective counsel can of course manifest from poor representation due to lack of expertise as well. However, I don’t believe in blindly bashing public defenders. In my opinion, the system is clearly at fault here and crippling workloads lead to time constraints that can affect defendants. Nevertheless, whoever is apportioned the blame for this is of little consequence to the defendant. It is their right to be represented by a professional who is able to elicit their best practice towards any given case.
Williams’ own original counsel cited time constraints due to a heavy workload regarding a concurrent case as to their failure to cite Williams’ background pre-sentencing. Whilst, not a slight at the defence, Williams’ rights were hindered by this omission. Two out of four federal judges agreed with this opinion as the defendant’s case was reviewed by the 8th Circuit Court. The following 2-1 decision in favour to vacate the original Habeas Corpus decision left Williams looking to the Supreme Court for appeal and relief. Linked below is the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus.
The unsolved murder of Debra McClain one month prior to that of Gayle by similar means and location also raises questions of a possible connection between the two. McClain was murdered in Pagedale on July 18th 1998, less than four weeks before that of Gayle. It is important to acknowledge that St Louis County in Missouri, is an area heavily burdened by crime. Trusting to reports St Louis has been gauged as the most dangerous city in the entire United States. Varying surveys have other Cities jockeying for the top spot but when multiple examples are taken into account, it is clear St Louis ranks high.
Pagedale lies 7 miles per the crow from St Louis and whilst the knowledge that St Louis City is awash with homicides lessens the possibility that the two crimes are connected it also furthers the prospect that Williams was one of multiple suspects that could be linked to the murder of Gayle. It’s a frightening statistic to realise that 6 out every 10,000 inhabitants of St Louis end up becoming a homicide statistic. Easy to see how perhaps Public Defenders have too much work on their plates to operate at maximum potential? These problems are related and are a breeding ground for potential errors of justice.
Jury selection is an integral part of how the US judicial system operates. After all, the power held by these 12 individuals to deliberate over the freedom and future of the accused is tangible. Rightly so, much significance is made of the Voir Dire process. Voir Dire is the means by which a jury is selected. The number of potential jurors interviewed for a final place on the panel can number into the hundreds. Both the Prosecution and Defence will attempt to have what they believe to be the best jury panel to suit their goals. A questionnaire is filled in by each and every potential juror and then the interview process begins. Voir Dire aims to assemble 12 jurors of non-bias. 12 jurors that can assimilate the evidence given to them at trial and come to a decision on the guilt or innocence of the defendant before them relating to the laws put in place. Missouri’s demographics for 2010 revealed a population made up by 83% white ethnicity and 12% black ethnicity. St Louis, one of its largest cities on the other hand was made up of 44% white ethnicity and 49% black ethnicity. Williams’ case was heard before 11 white jurors and 1 black juror.
To suggest that white jurors are more likely to find a black defendant guilty of the murder of a white victim is a disservice to the individual. The same applies to suggest that a black juror is more likely to find a black defendant innocent of the same crime. I am not implying that jurors selected necessarily showed bias however; the ratio selected trends to that of the demographic of Missouri and not to that of St Louis. By know means should these selection processes be run by demographical statistics but history needs to be respected. Cases such as, Andre Cole, Herbert Smulls and Kimber Edwards were all sentenced to death by all white juries after potential black jurors had been dismissed by Prosecutors and judges alike. Edwards sentence was commuted at a later date. Cole and Smulls will not be afforded that luxury as both have already been executed. Were Cole, Smulls, Kimber and now Williams afforded a fair jury selection? This I cannot definitively answer. All I will say though is that racial make-ups of jury panels are important. The process by which these panels are appointed can play as important a part in the defendants fate as the subsequent trial itself. I am sure of circumstances arising where lopsided juries can be reasonably explained. I am also sure of circumstances where they cannot. Aspects of Voir Dire should be addressed.
Marcellus Williams is due to be executed at 6pm on Tuesday the 22nd of August. My opinion of his innocence or guilt is not possible and more importantly not relevant. My opinion on him being granted due process and a platform for evidence to be heard before an evidentiary hearing is relevant and a right that should be afforded to all that come before any judiciary in the world, let alone the United States.
I am an advocate for the abolishment of the death penalty. At present 31 States still have the death penalty at their disposal if they feel fit to use it. The idea that justice will be served to the families of victims and peace will follow from the death of the guilty party does not ring true to me. It is not just the possibility of killing an innocent person but also the mindset that these actions can be seen as healing to a community. The death penalty is clearly not a deterrent but rather an act of lowering oneself to that of a murderer. I’ll leave you with a quote by Marietta Jaeger, a woman whose seven-year-old daughter was kidnapped and murdered in the United States back in 1973. Words of wisdom spoken despite indescribable pain.
“Concerning the claim of justice for the victim’s family, I say there is no amount of retaliatory deaths that would compensate to me the inestimable value of my daughter’s life, nor would they restore her to my arms. To say that the death of any other person would be just retribution is to insult the immeasurable worth of our loved ones who are victims. We cannot put a price on their lives. That kind of justice would only dehumanize and degrade us because it legitimates an animal instinct for gut-level blood thirsty revenge…. In my case, my own daughter was such a gift of joy and sweetness and beauty, that to kill someone in her name would have been to violate and profane the goodness of her life; the idea is offensive and repulsive to me.”
If you wish to sign the petition to halt the execution of Marcellus Williams, please do so here:
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