'Williams is devoted Muslim and his attitude is "what happens to me, will be God's will,' his lawyer says
Missouri Governor Eric Greitens on Tuesday issued a stay of execution for a death row inmate convicted of murder after a DNA report raised questions about his guilt.
"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."
A black Muslim, Marcellus Williams, 48, was convicted and sentenced to death in 2001 by a nearly all-white jury for the 1998 killing of Lisha Gayle, a former St. Louis newspaper reporter. He was scheduled to die by injection Tuesday evening.
But his lawyers, Larry Komp and Kent E. Gipson of Kansas City, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the execution and examine the new evidence, which shows that DNA found on the knife used in the murder did not match that of Williams.
"Obviously, it's good news," Gipson told Anadolu Agency. "We don't expect it to be easy, but we are confident we're going to prevail on this."
Gipson said he was confident the governor was motivated to take action because he thought it was the right thing to do, noting the outpouring of support throughout the country for Williams on social media also had a big impact.
"Because we know from recent experience, if people speak with one voice on something, politicians usually listen," he said. "I think that's what happened here."
"Right now, we’re just going to rest up for the next stage of the process, which is going to be a board of inquiry convened by the governor, although the members haven't been appointed yet. I'm not sure how fast it's going to happen."
Asked about Williams' mindset over the death penalty, he said Williams is a devoted Muslim and his attitude is ‘what happens to me will be God's will.’ Meanwhile, he obviously wants his lawyers to continue to fight for him.”
"We wanted our opportunity to talk about what this DNA evidence means," said Komp.
However, St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch said there was ample evidence to convict Williams, and there's "zero possibility" he is innocent.
"I don't look at those bigger pictures," Komp said, when asked whether they are concerned about McCulloch. "I think this was a healing moment and the governor interceded himself to make sure there was an appropriate process."
A group called Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty launched a petition Monday demanding a halt to Williams’ execution.
Nearly 250,000 people had signed it in less than 24 hours.