Op Ed: State of Missouri set to execute Marcellus Williams in a few hours despite DNA evidence proving innocence


Governor Greitens could commute his death sentence.

by Jeanine Molloff

Marcellus Williams never had a chance at a fair trial when he faced off against the prosecutors in St. Louis County. This is the office of the Ferguson prosecutor.  That was strike one.

Marcellus Williams is a black man who faced an all-white jury, charged with murder in the same county as the entire Ferguson disgrace. He was convicted solely on the word of a jailhouse snitch offering testimony for some leniency—and an ex-girlfriend who admitted to a cocaine addiction at the time of the trial. There is no physical evidence linking him to the crime. That was strike two.

Marcellus Williams’ attorneys have incontrovertible DNA evidence taken from under the victim’s nails and from the murder weapon exonerating him. Using new techniques, DNA experts were able to state that Marcellus Williams could not have committed the murder.

On August 16, 2017, the Mo. Supreme Court denied a stay of execution after this same DNA evidence proved that Marcellus Williams could not have committed the murder.  The court failed to give any explanation for their actions, so any subsequent appeals to the Supreme Court will be most likely useless as the SCOTUS will have no procedural legal basis to consider the request.

On August 22, 2017, at 6pm, Marcellus Williams will be executed for a murder he did not commit. Evidence clearing him will not be considered. That is the third and final strike.

The history of the crime…

Marcellus was charged with the murder of St. Louis Post-Dispatch journalist Felicia Gayle.  Prosecutors said that Felicia Gayle was murdered in her home when she interrupted a robbery in progress. That was in 1998.  They charged Marcellus Williams with Gayle’s murder, and an all-white jury in St. Louis County sentenced him to death in 2001. One last thing, Felicia Gayle was a white woman living in a gated community and Marcellus Williams is black.

Postman Gambit strategy and other accusations of prosecutorial misconduct…

Attorneys for Marcellus Williams argued that the trial judge improperly allowed illegally obtained evidence into court arguments. Additionally his attorneys argued that jury instructions were tainted with bias against the defendant, and that the jury selection itself used a technique that insured an all-white jury.  Former St. Louis County Chief Trial Attorney, Dean Waldemer is credited as the architect of the “Postman Gambit”, a technique designed to massively exclude black persons from sitting on St. Louis County capital juries. This tactic was used in the capital cases of Andre Cole, Kimber Edwards and Marcellus Williams.  The ‘Postman Gambit’ speaks to a frequent practice of excluding black jurors from a population pool which includes a statistically significant percentage of black persons. Given the demographics of St. Louis County, it is highly unlikely that all-white juries would result if the prosecutor’s office were following legitimate rules for jury selection.

 

Why jury selection matters—and why Postman Gambit is prosecutorial misconduct…

The ‘postman gambit’ references the case of Herbert Smulls, a black man facing a capital murder trial. In this case, the assistant prosecuting attorney had a black woman dismissed from the jury pool because she was a postal worker, and this prosecutor made the asinine claim that postal workers were untrustworthy, and thus unfit to serve as jurors.  The reality of this strategy lies in its inherent slimy dishonesty. Prosecutors find any trivial excuse to dismiss potential black jurors in capital cases where the defendant is also black—all the while manufacturing plausible deniability regarding any questions of racial bias. It’s laughingly referred to as the ‘postman gambit’ because the first black juror dismissed happened to be a postal worker.

UC Berkeley law professor calls out ‘postman gambit’ as racial bias…

Elisabeth Semel, director of the University of California at Berkeley Law School’s death penalty clinic explains; …”The exclusion of African Americans from juries remains—across the nation—one of the starkest examples of continued racism.”

She adds that this is …”not a debatable issue; it’s pervasive. And cases like Cole’s [Andre Cole] are evidence of the fact that courts give short shrift to this issue. They give prosecutors a pass.”

Semel concluded that…”It’s really difficult to watch the court apply the law so unreasonably, so improperly.” “It’s dismissive to the point of being glib; it’s not a serious examination of such a serious civil rights violation.”

Across the continent, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that…”racial discrimination remains rampant in jury selection.”

Admission by former St. Louis County Prosecutor that juror exclusion by race is endemic and recommended…

A former St. Louis County prosecutor admitted on the record to defendant Andre Cole’s attorney Joseph Luby that the ‘postman gambit’ is informally recommended to new prosecutors as a …”way of systemically excluding people of color from juries without mentioning their race.” This admission is referenced from sworn affidavits filed in an appeal on Cole’s behalf.

St. Louis County a hotbed of prosecutorial misconduct and racial bias according to Harvard study…

St. Louis County has been identified by legal scholars as a hotbed of prosecutorial misconduct and racial bias.  According to Harvard Law Professor Ronald Sullivan, …”This report suggests that the ‘win-at-all-costs’ mentality adopted by a small group of prosecutors has led to shockingly high rates of prosecutorial misconduct and wrongful convictions.”

In light of what can only be called blatant prosecutorial crimes of racial bias and ‘gerrymandering’ juries, how can any black person receive a fair trial? It is incomprehensible that federal authorities cannot see what is a systemic ‘hate crime’ being committed against blacks by the concomitant systemic rigging of juries to insure an all-white composition. The Ferguson prosecutor Bob McCulloch, and his staff know from experience that all-white juries sitting in judgment against a black man—will convict and deliver a death penalty in most cases. The ‘postman gambit’, once again, merely provides a thin veneer of plausible deniability regarding the inherent racist policies of prosecutors. It is ‘dog-whistle politics’ worthy of Sheriff Arpaio—but in St. Louis County prosecutors provide the appearance of civility. Unfortunately for Marcellus Williams, it insured his conviction on nothing more than the word of a jailhouse snitch—and a cocaine addled ex-girlfriend. DNA evidence, the only physical evidence in this entire case, has surfaced which proves that Marcellus Williams is innocent—so a 12th hour appeal was made to the Missouri Supreme Court.

Missouri Supreme Court Denied Execution Stay in spite of DNA Evidence Exonerating Williams…

On August 16, 2017, the Mo. Supreme Court denied a stay of execution after DNA evidence proved that Marcellus Williams could not have committed the murder.  Williams’ attorneys stated that recent DNA testing conducted this December used scientific techniques not available in 1998. The court denied the request with no explanation.

The new report unequivocally proves that DNA found on the murder weapon could not be that of Marcellus Williams. The DNA expert concluded that Williams “could not have contributed to the detected [DNA] profile” and the other found “a clear exclusion of Marcellus Williams from the knife handle.” The petition alleged that the “physical evidence collected from the crime scene”—which included fingernail scrapings from the victim, who had been stabbed more than 40 times—“did not match and could not be linked to” Williams.

Earlier DNA testing of hair and fingernail scrapings from the victim excluded Marcellus Williams as the perpetrator, yet the Ferguson prosecutor pushed ahead to convict an innocent man of a capital offense calling for the death penalty.

Williams’ Attorneys requested a Special Master….

Attorneys for Marcellus Williams requested that the Mo. Supreme Court appoint a special master to review the guilt or innocence in light of this new evidence and commute the death sentence to life in prison.

Attorney for Marcellus Williams explains how Missouri Court Torpedoed any Supreme Court Appeal..

Williams’ attorney Kent Gipson explained ; …”Certainly something involving a claim of innocence that is this substantial, you would think they would at least write an opinion or at least a short opinion giving the reasons they denied it, because that makes it more difficult to take it up to a higher court because they don’t know exactly on what basis the ruling was made.”

‘Pro-Life’ GOP Attorney General Josh Hawley indifferent about this case…

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley had his spokeswoman tell the Associated Press that his office was confident Williams is guilty based on “other evidence.” Hawley’s spokeswoman did not identify this alleged ‘other evidence.’ Josh Hawley campaigned for his present office on a pro-life stance. Apparently the contents of a woman’s uterus are far more compelling than considering scientific evidence that would prevent the execution of an innocent man.

Governor Greitens spokesman gives non-committal response…  

Governor Greitens is the last stop for Marcellus Williams. Greitens is the first Jewish governor of Missouri, and as such knows the nature of racial and religious bigotry in this state. When our Jewish cemetery was desecrated by vandals, Greitens condemned the act in a speech on the grounds. Recently he has condemned the rise of neo-Nazis, even though he is on good terms with the Trump administration. He recently condemned the alt-Right mob in Charlottesville, calling it out as, “white supremacy, racism, anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism.”

It was hoped that Governor Greitens would speak to the injustice of the Marcellus Williams case. Proceeding with execution when substantiated evidence proves innocence because of prosecutorial misconduct engineered to maintain systemic racism-is also an act of Nazism.

Unfortunately, rather than address this appeal for clemency personally, he sent his official spokesman Parker Briden to state that his office is …”in the process of reviewing the case with our legal team.”

How can anyone review a case that has been denied its day in court regarding tangible scientific evidence exonerating this man? All that his attorney originally requested was consideration of actual evidence beyond suborned perjured jailhouse testimony. If Governor Greitens refuses to review this actual scientific evidence, then he is knowingly complicit in sending an innocent black man to his state sanctioned murder.

Procedural whims of judges vs. a defendant’s human right to present exonerating evidence…

This case, like far too many, often depends on procedural whims of judges—even in the face of physical scientific evidence that proves innocence.  Such appeals should not be refused based on procedural rules that were created before scientific and technological advances could actually provide tangible proof of guilt or innocence. This reliance on procedural structures is a relic of a bygone era that sacrifices justice to judicial privilege.

Conclusion…

Given the history of virulent racism in Missouri—all requests for reconsideration of scientific and anecdotal evidence should be respected. After the world witnessed the structural police and prosecutorial abuse of Ferguson—all death penalty convictions stemming from this office must be reconsidered–and a moratorium declared on state sponsored executions until these questions of massive police and prosecutorial misconduct are reviewed by a third party and corrected.

It is a specious and inane argument for the politicians and prosecutors—especially McCulloch—the Ferguson Prosecutor—to claim that any abuses were bad apples or an outlier—as nothing seems to happen in that office without McCulloch’s approval.

Playing politics with a person’s life is almost as vile as the systemic police and prosecutorial misconduct in Missouri—and especially in St. Louis County.  There is no legitimacy behind all-white juries in a state that has proven its virulent racism to the world. The ‘Postman Gambit’ strategy should be denounced for what it is—prosecutorial misconduct bordering on overt criminality. Sadly, Marcellus Williams will probably pay for the prosecutor’s crimes—with his life.

Jeanine Mollof View more

Jeanine Mollof
Jeanine Mollof is a veteran urban educator specializing in communications disorders. She moonlights as a political commentator on various issues including civil liberties in an age of ‘terrorism’, ecological justice, collateral damage in war zones, economic equity and education. Jeanine has published with Huffington Post, OpEdNews, FireDogLake, Counterpunch and Huffington Post Union of Bloggers. In an era of state and corporate sanctioned censorship; she believes that journalism which demands answers to the tough questions is the last remaining bulwark of democracy. Now more than ever we need the likes of I.F. Stone over the insipid voices of celebrity infotainment. Jeanine works and lives in St. Louis, Missouri.

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