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Williams v. McCulloch

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

January 14, 2015



RODNEY W. SIPPEL, District Judge.

Marcellus Williams is scheduled to be executed on January 28, 2015, at 12:01 a.m. for the first degree murder of Felicia Gayle. He brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Robert McCulloch, the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney, seeking release of physical evidence for DNA testing to prove his innocence.[1] He seeks a stay of his execution pending the testing of the DNA evidence. After careful review, I find that the complaint is frivolous and fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. As a result, I will dismiss this action without further proceedings. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) (mandating sua sponte dismissal of in forma pauperis actions that are frivolous, malicious, or fail to state a claim.).


On August 11, 1998, Williams illegally entered Felicia Gayle's home and stabbed her to death. Petitioner was tried and convicted in 2001. He appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, challenging evidentiary rulings, voir dire, instructions, and closing argument. See State v. Williams, 97 S.W.3d 462 (Mo. banc 2003) cert. denied, 539 U.S. 944 (2003). He did not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence. The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed on January 14, 2003.

Williams filed a Rule 29.15 motion for postconviction relief in the trial court on May 30, 2003. The court denied the motion after holding an evidentiary hearing. On appeal, Williams brought several claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. He claimed that counsel was ineffective for failing to test Laura Asaro's blood, hair, and fibers in order to connect her to the crime scene. He did not claim that counsel was ineffective for failing to send any DNA evidence for testing or comparison to criminal databases. The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed on June 21, 2005. See Williams v. State, 168 S.W.3d 433 (Mo. banc 2005). The court found that Williams's claim regarding Asaro's biological evidence was purely conclusory and presented no factual basis for relief. Id. at 442. Asaro had been his girlfriend at the time of the murder, and she testified against him at trial. Id. at 438.

Williams filed his petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on August 29, 2006. Williams v. Roper, 4:05CV1474 RWS (E.D. Mo.). On the same day, he filed a motion for discovery to conduct further DNA testing on the physical evidence at the crime scene so that he could attempt to match it to Asaro and known felons in both Missouri's and the FBI's database systems. In denying the motion, I stated,

with respect to the motion for additional DNA testing of the biological trace evidence from the crime scene, the Court decides that there is no good cause for discovery. The biological trace evidence has been tested. This is not a case in which the biological trace evidence has not been tested and, if tested, could exculpate petitioner. The record shows that the biological trace evidence did not match the DNA of petitioner, the victim or the victim's husband. This fact was presented to the jury at petitioner's trial.

Id. (Mem. and Order dated March 30, 2007).

The § 1983 Complaint

Williams asks the Court to order McCulloch to release physical evidence from the crime scene for DNA testing so that he can attempt to implicate another person as Gayle's murderer. He says he asked McCulloch to release the evidence and the McCulloch did not respond to the request. He sues McCulloch in his official capacity only, and he seeks injunctive and declaratory relief.

Williams's main complaint is that he was convicted despite the fact that none of the physical evidence at the crime scene demonstrated his guilt. He admits that he could have asked for the DNA testing at trial or in his postconviction proceedings but that he did not do so. And he further admits that because of this failure he has no remedy under Missouri law. See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 547.035.2; Mo. S.Ct. R. 29.15( l ).

Williams claims that McCulloch's refusal to release the evidence (1) violates his right to procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment; (2) violates his right of access to the courts under the First Amendment; (3) violates his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment; (4) violates his rights under the Confrontation and Compulsory Process Clauses of the Sixth Amendment; and (5) violates his right to due process in clemency proceedings. I will address each of these claims in turn.

1. Due Process

Williams argues that "his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment were violated when the State refused him access to evidence for DNA testing." Compl. at 11. He "believes the results of the DNA testing of this evidence will cast doubt on his conviction..." Id. at 14. He argues that the "denial of access to test the above evidence and vindicate Mr. Williams' claims of actual innocence violates Mr. Williams' procedural due process rights and deprives him of his life and liberty interests to prove his innocence." He also contends that it deprives him of his right to try to bring a successive federal habeas petition. He also argues that the Missouri DNA statute, § ...

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