Missouri governor halts execution amid questions over DNA evidence


CHICAGO, Aug 22 (Reuters) - Missouri Governor Eric Greitens halted the execution of a man scheduled to be put to death on Tuesday for killing a woman during a burglary after his attorneys argued that recent DNA evidence showed he is innocent.

Greitens issued the stay of execution for Marcellus Williams, 48, just over four hours before he was scheduled to die by lethal injection in a Bonne Terre state prison for the stabbing death of former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Felicia Gayle during an August 1998 robbery at her home.

Greitens said in a statement he would appoint a Board of Inquiry to further consider Williams' request for executive clemency.

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Top countries by capital punishment in 2016

10. Malaysia: 9 executions

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9. Bangladesh: 10 executions

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8. Somalia: 14 executions

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7. United States: 20 executions

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6. Egypt: 44+ executions

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5. Pakistan: 87+ executions

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4. Iraq: 88+ executions

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3. Saudi Arabia: 154+ executions

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2. Iran: 567+ executions

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1. China: 1,000s of executions

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The stay came as opposition to the execution mounted. More than 200,000 people had signed an online petition asking Greitens to intervene, and a rally protesting the execution was planned in St. Louis later on Tuesday, featuring speakers such as the head of the Missouri NAACP.

"The DNA evidence says he's innocent," Kent Gipson, Williams' attorney, said earlier on Tuesday.

Williams was sentenced to death in 2001 after prosecutors said he stabbed Gayle 43 times when she surprised him as he was burglarizing her home.

Gipson had also petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the execution, arguing that DNA testing conducted last year with newer methods found that DNA on the knife was from an unknown male, not Williams.

Hairs found on Gayle's body also exclude Williams, said forensic DNA expert Greg Hampikian, who was hired by Williams' attorneys and has examined the DNA evidence.

Earlier in the day on Tuesday, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley's office said the state remained confident that Williams is guilty based on non-DNA evidence. (Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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