The Missouri Supreme Court is weighing whether Gov. Mike Parson had the legal authority to dissolve a board of inquiry looking into whether Marcellus Williams might be innocent of murder. He was sentenced to death for the 1998 murder of former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Felicia Gayle.

Former Gov. Eric Greitens appointed the board in 2017 to investigate Williams’ claim of innocence, but on June 29 of last year, Parson dissolved the board, even though it hadn’t finished its inquiry. He also removed a stay of execution Greitens had issued. At the time, Parson said, “This Board was established nearly six years ago, and it’s time to move forward. We could stall and delay for another six years, deferring justice, leaving a victim’s family in limbo, and solving nothing. This administration won’t do that.”

Assistant Attorney General Michael Spillane told the high court on Wednesday that state law is on the governor’s side.

“There’s nothing in the statute that says the governor can’t dissolve a board of inquiry,” Spillane said. “There’s nothing in the statute that says that he has to reinstate the board and take away his ending of a stay of execution. There’s simply nothing there.”

The Midwest Innocence Project sued Parson over the move, but Cole County Circuit Judge Cotton Walker denied a motion by the governor to dismiss that lawsuit. Attorney Jonathan Potts, representing Walker, argued that you cannot insert words into an existing state law.

“There is no dictionary in the world that defines the word ‘appoint’ to mean ‘dissolve,’” he said. “The General Assembly writes the laws, the governor executes those laws as written, and the courts step in to interpret those laws and to invalidate any actions that exceed those words.”

Potts also cited another statute that suggests legislative approval would be needed to dissolve a board of inquiry.

The Missouri Supreme Court will issue a ruling later.

Meanwhile, Prosecutor Wesley Bell has filed a motion in St. Louis County Circuit Court to vacate Williams’ conviction.

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