Anytime a life is spared, it’s a victory. Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (MADP) began our Change.org petition several weeks ago because of the compelling evidence of Marcellus Williams’ innocence.
We thought it would be great to get 100, maybe 1,000, signatures to deliver to Gov. Greitens before yesterday’s scheduled execution.
Your voices and willingness to fight this injustice astounded us all. At noon on the day of the scheduled execution, we delivered 185,000 of your signatures to Gov. Greitens’ office, where they promised to look closely at your concerns. At 1:37 p.m., we received a call from the governor’s office explaining that they had issued a stay of Marcellus’ execution in order to appoint a board of inquiry to look into his innocence.
The fight must continue, however. We need to maintain the pressure. Marcellus faces the determination of the Board of Inquiry. The fight to keep him alive must be sustained.
Because Missouri’s death penalty is still very broken.
As of today, over 259,000 of you have heard us and joined us – now go a step further and financially support our mission.
Just as individual signatures became over a quarter million and saved a life, individual donations of $10 or more will accomplish the same. We encourage you to partner with us – to partner with Marcellus and others like him – and join our cause. Your support, both vocally and financially, enables us to continue this important work. For that, we thank you.
Throughout August we pushed Marcellus’ story in local Missouri news outlets and on social media. Last week we reached out to over 400 Missouri media outlets, hoping to bring greater attention to the Missouri Supreme Court’s refusal last Tuesday to hear the new DNA evidence. We worked closely with the Missouri NAACP and Marcellus’ attorneys as part of our usual work surrounding a death penalty case. Many times, we work in the background, mostly out of the public eye, to fight Missouri’s broken death penalty. This can be advantageous, but it also presents challenges to our efforts.
As a much smaller nonprofit, we were so grateful that our calls for Marcellus were heard by Amnesty International, Equal Justice USA, the NAACP, the ACLU of Missouri, Lush Cosmetics, and the Kansas City Star. We could not have accomplished this without any of them.
But most of all, we are grateful to you, the people, for making #MarcellusWilliams go viral on Twitter. You elevated the death sentence of an innocent man in Missouri into the national and international news. You pressured the governor to make the right choice in a state that, in recent history, has failed to more than once. You proved that social media activism indeed works.
Marcellus’ case demonstrates the frightening circumstances of Missouri’s broken criminal justice system and death penalty processes. We must ask how could Marcellus, with DNA evidence supporting his innocence and with such questionable witness testimony, come within just four hours of being killed by the state? In St. Louis County, where Marcellus was convicted, an individual is 13 times more likely to receive a death sentence than for the same crime in another county. Just 2.6% of Missouri’s 114 counties are responsible for the vast majority of its executions. And one prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, the same prosecutor who infamously refused to press charges in Ferguson, has doubled down on his denial of DNA evidence in this case, although he has accepted it in others.
What does this say about Missouri’s criminal justice system, its disregard for certain individuals’ lives, the arbitrariness with which prosecutors can conduct themselves, and the work left for MADP to do?
Our work has paid off, in the case of Marcellus and in others. There have been no new death sentences handed down by Missouri’s capital juries since 2013. In 2015, a potential death sentence became life without parole. This summer, MADP published its Voices project, a collection of powerful interviews with murder victim family members, correctional staff, and the families of executed and exonerated individuals. MADP also continues to expand its victim outreach initiatives, understanding that the system often re-victimizes families all over again.
This fall, we will continue to strive to educate other Missourians about the harsh realities of serving on a capital jury in a collaboration with Working Films, screening Lindy Lou, Juror Number 2 in nine locations.
But with 25 inmates still on Missouri’s death row and with prosecutors like Bob McCulloch still in office, we have work to do. And we need your support to do it.