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Missouri governor issues stay of execution in light of DNA evidence

[JURIST] Missouri Governor Eric Greitens [official website] issued [order, PDF] a stay of execution for Marcellus Williams who was scheduled to be executed on Tuesday. Williams was sentenced [press release] to death in 2001 after being convicted of the first-degree murder of Felicia Gayle. Greitens decided to grant the stay of execution due to newly discovered DNA evidence, which Williams claims proves his innocence. The executive order will establish a Board of Inquiry, which will be made of five people appointed by Greitens. The board will consider all evidence, including the new DNA evidence and all evidence presented to the jury during the original trial. After assessing the weight and credibility of all evidence, the board will then provide a recommendation to the governor on if Williams should be executed or his sentence commuted.

The death penalty has been the focal point of an ongoing debate in the US for many years. In March Florida Governor Rick Scott signed [JURIST report] a new law that required a unanimous recommendation from the jury before a judge may sentence someone to death. Also in March the Arkansas Supreme Court [official website] issued an order [JURIST report] stating there was no stay in place preventing the execution of eight inmates scheduled for the following month. In February the Mississippi house approved a bill [JURIST report] allowing firing squad executions. Also in February a judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio refused to lift [JURIST report] a preliminary injunction that delays executions in Ohio. In January Judge Michael Merz blocked [JURIST report] Ohio's lethal injection protocol by deeming it unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment.

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