- Reuters/Gary Cameron
An Arkansas man on death row may get one last chance at clemency when lawyers present previously undisclosed evidence of severe childhood physical and sexual abuse to the parole board on Monday.
Marcel Wayne Williams, 46, one of 8 Arkansas prisoners sentenced for execution in the month of April, was sentenced to death in 1997 for the rape and murder of a young woman in 1994.
Julie Vandiver, William’s lawyer, filed a new clemency petition for Williams after Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson signed a declaration in early March to reinstate capital punishment to the state for the first time since 2005.
Williams’ execution date is currently set for April 24.
Vandiver told Business Insider that she is petitioning for a review of Williams’ case based on the fact that the attorneys who represented Williams’ in 1997 did not disclose information about his traumatic past to the jury.
“Nobody ever did what they were supposed to do in Marcel’s case until it was too late,” said Vandiver.
Evidence of Williams’ childhood came to light in 2006, which new attorneys presented to Arkansas judge Leon Holmes. Holmes found that Williams was subject to “every category of traumatic experience that is generally used to describe childhood trauma” and ordered for a review of his case within 120 days.
Williams’ sister, several cousins, and a psychology professor all testified in the case that Williams suffered from an abusive mother, who once poured a pot of boiling water on him and offered “his sexual services to women in their twenties, thirties, and forties, while he was only a child” in exchange for food stamps.
Williams’ “crimes, and the person he was when he committed them, were truly the result of a cycle of violence and victimization that began long before he was born,” public defender Jason P. Kearney, wrote in the clemency application.
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis overruled the Arkansas decision and the US Supreme Court later declined to go over the case.
The crux of Williams’ petition, however, is that the Supreme Court ruled in Wiggins v. Smith in 2003 that counsels must investigate and present mitigating evidence such as Williams’ history of abuse to juries in capital punishment cases.
“Death cases are supposed to have the most heightened standard of review in our justice system,” Vandiver said. “This important evidence about Marcel’s childhood has really evaded review from the courts by no fault of Marcel’s.”
The clemency petition is limited to capital punishment, specifying that Williams accepts his sentence and that he and Vandiver are asking the parole board to recommend imprisonment without the chance of parole on Monday.
In Arkansas, the parole board makes a recommendation, but ultimately the governor has the final say in whether to grant it. Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson has not commented specifically on the case, though he did push for a revival of executions in the state.
Vandiver said that she is confident that her client has “a very strong case.”