Marcellus Williams Has a Strong Case for Innocence. He's Still on Death Row

DNA analysis has revealed many wrongful convictions. A Missouri death-row inmate says he's one

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Debunking Key Witnesses

In their appeal, Gipson and Komp stressed that prosecutors didn't volunteer all they knew about their witnesses' histories.

Gipson and Komp described Henry Cole as a "career criminal with convictions dating back 30 years" who would "say anything for money." They detailed a long history of mental illness that jurors didn't hear during Williams' trial. Members of Cole's family recounted how he suffered from "auditory hallucinations" when he failed to take his psychiatric medications.

Testimonies gathered from Cole's relatives confirmed his reputation for "providing false information to the police in exchange for leniency." In one case, the lawyers wrote that Cole "served as an informant against his own son ... to get a deal from authorities."

The lawyers also chipped away at the testimony of the other state witness, Laura Asaro, whom they called a "crack-addicted prostitute." For example, Asaro told police and prosecutors that she saw a purse containing Gayle's state identification card in the trunk of Williams' car. That ID, however, was found in Gayle's home.

Williams' lawyers argued that Asaro only agreed to testify against Williams in exchange for the dismissal of outstanding warrants against her and a portion of the reward money. The lawyers found witnesses who testified that Asaro was a "known police informant" with a "pattern of lying to police to get herself out of trouble."

The witnesses said Asaro admitted to setting up Williams to get the $10,000 reward. Asaro, the lawyers added, "desperately needed this money to feed her crack cocaine addiction, and she had made prior false allegations against others."

On the issue of the car Asaro told police Williams drove on the day of the murder, multiple witnesses, including Asaro's own mother, alleged she lied. Each witness testified that Williams' car was inoperable when Gayle was killed. Gipson and Komp contended that Asaro (who had keys to Williams' car after his arrest) or the police could have planted Gayle's possessions in Williams' automobile.

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The National Registry of Exonerations has comprehensive research on people who've been exonerated since 1989. The agency's stated goal is to "prevent future false convictions by learning from past errors."

Of special focus: testimony by jailhouse informants claiming someone confessed to them while in custody.

"Jailhouse snitch testimony, as it is commonly known, is notoriously unreliable because the incarcerated witnesses are strongly motivated to say what the prosecution wants, usually because they get substantial reductions in their own sentences in return," the site notes.

Eight percent of all exonerees in the registry were convicted in part by testimony from jailhouse informants, the agency states. Additionally, it added this:

"Among murders, the more extreme the punishment, the more likely we are to see a jailhouse informant, ranging from 23 percent of exonerations with death sentences to 10 percent of murder cases in which the defendant received a sentence less than life in prison."

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