Sharon talked with LAWNEWZ Network about the scheduled execution of Marcellus Williams and the retrial of death row inmate John Valerio 31 years after his conviction.
Attorney Sharon Meisler spoke with LAWNEWZ Network about death penalty cases on the day the State of Missouri was scheduled to execute convicted murderer Marcellus Williams. Sharon also spoke about the high-profile retrial of John Valerio, after 31 years on death row in the State of Nevada.
The Senior Partner of AMS Law, P.C. has been involved with death penalty cases, has extensive criminal appeal experience, and has trained criminal lawyers across the United States of America.
In this interview, Sharon covers the process of death penalty cases with a focus on two high profile death penalty cases: John Valerio in Nevada, and Marcellus Williams in Missouri.
John Valerio has spent the last 31 years on death row after being convicted of murder. Valerio was granted a retrial, because the initial trial judge’s jury instructions on sentencing were deemed too vague on appeal. Marcellus Williams was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 2001. Williams was scheduled to be executed at 6pm on the day this interview was conducted, despite new DNA evidence uncovered by Williams’ defense team.
At about 1:45 into the interview, Sharon focuses on the jury instructions from John Valerio’s initial trial. Valerio’s appeal stated the instructions were vague, because the jury was told, “that one of the things that you [can] base a death penalty sentence on is depravity of mind,” according to LAWNEWZ host Heather Hansen.
Jury instructions in a death penalty case “are probably the most important jury instructions in the criminal justice system,” Sharon told LAWNEWZ. These instructions are important because, “when we’re talking about death…you can’t exonerate an erroneous death penalty, because the person is dead.”
At 4:30 in the interview, Sharon explains how important preparing for potential sentencing in a death penalty trial is for defense attorneys. Half of the defense team usually focuses on sentencing right from the beginning. This is work, in Sharon’s words, a defense attorney, “hopes never has to be presented.”
At 8:15 into the interview, the focus switches to the highly-publicized case of Marcellus Wallace who was convicted and sentenced to death for the alleged murder of Felicia Gale. Wallace was scheduled to be executed at 6pm on August 22nd, the same day as this interview with LAWNEWZ.
Wallace’s defense team recently filed new DNA evidence that was not available during the original 2001 trial. The defense claims the new evidence exonerates Mr. Wallace. A range of high-profile advocates have been pressuring Missouri Governor Eric Greitens to grant a stay of execution to give the courts enough time to fully review the new evidence.
These types of public campaigns are, “not done that often,” said Sharon. “But, they help.”
UPDATE: On August 22nd
Missouri Governor Eric Greitens agreed to stay the execution of Marcellus Williams. “A sentence of death is the ultimate, permanent punishment,” Governor Greitens said in a statement. “To carry out the death penalty, the people of Missouri must have confidence in the judgement of guilt.”
The Governor created a new five-person Board of Inquiry to review the case and make a recommendation on clemency for Marcellus Williams.
At the close of the interview (about 12:30), a viewer asks Sharon if the potential of a mistake sending a client to death row, “keeps you up at night.”
“There’s a reason our segment of the profession has one of the highest rates of suicide and one of the highest rates of substance abuse,” answered Sharon. “When we walk into a courtroom, sometimes it’s just us against, literally, the entire state and that person’s liberty is in our hands. That’s not something any qualified criminal defense attorney forgets.”
“At the end of a case, when you are sitting there by yourself, look inside your woulda-coulda-shoulda file and see if you’ve done everything you can,” Sharon advises attorneys. “If you’ve done everything you can then somehow, someway…you come back into work the next day…because the next client, the next file, is waiting for you.”
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