After governor's resignation, fate of Missouri man on death row in doubt

ST. LOUIS -- The fate of a Missouri man on death row for murder is in doubt after Gov. Eric Greitens stepped down last month amid a personal scandal. Greitens delayed Marcellus Williams' execution last summer. Williams, who has long maintained his innocence, is facing a death sentence for the 1998 murder of Felicia Gayle.

When Greitens delayed Williams' execution, he assigned a special board to re-examine the case, reports CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod. But Greitens' resignation left the board in jeopardy – and Williams' future more unclear than ever.

Marcellus Williams Jr. prepared for his father's execution last August.

"Me and my father, we said our goodbyes," Williams Jr. said. "We said we loved each other, I loved him, he loved me." 

But hours before the execution, Greitens granted Williams Sr. a temporary stay. Williams is convicted of stabbing Gayle, a former St. Louis-Post Dispatch reporter, 43 times with a butcher knife.

"There's enough doubt in this case that his sentence should at least be commuted," Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck said, adding, "The skin cells on the handle of the knife that was used in this murder are not from him." 

When Greitens issued pardons before leaving office in June, Williams was not one of them.

"Why do you think he chose not to?" Axelrod asked.

"I'm really not sure," Williams Jr. said. "It's like, maybe he also never cared. So he's like, I'm leaving, I don't care. I do these five pardons and Marcellus, he can rot."

While in office, Greitens asked a special five-person board to review the case. Now that he's gone, that board has since been canceled.

"I know the board was canceled. Will they meet? Will they make a recommendation to you and what will you do then?" Axelrod asked new Missouri Gov. Michael Parson.

"I would assume they would," Parson said. "I heard they're not going to. So I think once they make that recommendation, if they do meet, then we'll discuss that at the time."

"We've been following this case for a year," said activist and social media influencer Alison Brettschneider. She learned of the case days before Williams' scheduled execution and has since advocated for his exoneration.

"You're not a lawyer, you're not a politician… What are you bringing to this?" Axelrod asked her.

"I'm a person that cares and that's what the world needs more of," Brettschneider said.

The Missouri attorney general's office maintains Williams is guilty. Though Williams was not linked to the murder weapon, police found Gayle's clothing and her husband's computer in Williams' car.

In a statement, the attorney general's office told CBS News: "We will continue to defend the judgment of the jury and the many courts that have carefully reviewed Mr. Williams' case over sixteen years."

In addition to first degree murder, Williams has been convicted of burglary, assault and attempted armed robbery. 

"When people say to you, 'Hey, your dad was no Eagle Scout.' What's the answer to that?" Axelrod asked.

"Right... But he didn't harm, choke, slap punch and kill anyone. Someone did murder Mrs. Gayle, but it wasn't my father," Williams Jr. said.

In a statement to CBS News, Gayle's family said: "While we understand that Williams' sentencing fits a troubling pattern of racial disparity in the death penalty and that a case serious enough to warrant death is serious enough to warrant careful scrutiny, we would ask those on all sides to recognize that for the family, this is not policy, it is pain."