The state of Missouri has issued a stay of execution for convicted killer Marcellus Williams, citing potential new DNA evidence that may link another person to the crime.
Williams, 48, was convicted in 2001 for the 1998 murder of Felicia Gayle, a reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at the time. Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens issued the stay just hours before Williams was scheduled to be executed, according to The Washington Post.
Greitens announced he would be implementing a new review board to examine the claims of potential new DNA evidence that would exonerate Williams. Attorneys for the defense claim that DNA found on the murder weapon clearly implicates someone else.
Gayle was stabbed more than 40 times with a butcher knife while in her home. The prosecution said they felt "confident" in their case due to large amount of non-DNA evidence linking Williams to the crime, including personal effects of Gayle's found in Williams' car after the murder.
But Greitens is creating the five-person Board of Inquiry to ensure Missouri does not convict an innocent man. The Board of Inquiry will have subpoena power and will be able to examine both old and new evidence pertaining to the case, according to CNN.
"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."
Nina Morrison, senior staff attorney at the Innocence Project, applauded Greitens' decision to create the oversight board.
"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," she said.
The death penalty in America has been steadily losing favor since the 1990s, with 2016 marking the lowest number of executions in the country since 1991. Missouri is one of three states, in addition to Texas and Georgia, that are regularly executing inmates, according to The Washington Post.
Public support for the death penalty was near 80 percent in the mid 1990s, but a 2016 poll from Pew Research found just 40 percent of respondents remained in favor.
This is the second stay of execution granted to Williams, the first coming in 2015 after the state's Supreme Court learned of testimony from a DNA expert that stated Williams could "not have contributed" to the DNA found on the murder weapon.
"[The death penalty] has no deterrent value," read an editorial from the Post-Dispatch, remembering Gayle's distaste for state-sanctioned executions, reports CNN. "If the state must execute, there must be no room for doubt."
Sources: The Washington Post, CNN / Featured Image: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Images: Reuters via New York Daily News, CNN