E. Texan's execution stayed after last minute FBI evidence error revelation

Published: Jul. 16, 2015 at 9:28 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 16, 2015 at 9:35 PM CDT
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Clifton Williams (Source: Texas Department of Criminal Justice)
Clifton Williams (Source: Texas Department of Criminal Justice)

(KLTV) - An East Texas man, who was set to be executed tonight, has been granted a last minute stay of execution. That decision was made because of an error in the FBI database used to analyze his, and countless other's, DNA.

Clifton Williams was sentenced to death for the 2005 murder of 93-year old Cecilia Schneider in Tyler. Prosecutors say Williams beat and stabbed Schneider after reportedly robbing her for drug money, and then set her body on fire.

The day before his scheduled execution, the Attorney General's office notified Williams' attorney, Jim Huggler, that there had been an error in the statistics used in the FBI's database for DNA analysis during Williams' investigation.

"Whether it will make a difference in this case, I don't know," Huggler said. "But, the constitution protects Williams' right to know before he's put to death for his crimes…It is obviously the harshest punishment under the law."

While the initial error is certainly problematic, Huggler says it is the timing that has caused the most strife.

"The Attorney General's Office disclosing this the day before an execution, I think, is the really issue," he said.

Immediately, Huggler filed a request for a stay in the execution. He explains his reasoning.

"I argued that disclosure of this information the day before an execution doesn't allow any time for an independent investigation, or for the court's to even look at this issue."

Huggler says this interruption in Williams' legal process, in his life and, quite literally, death, is no doubt incredibly disruptive to his client.

"I imagine it would be very difficult emotionally to get through. I think probably he has spent a great deal of time preparing himself for this day and to have it not happen at the end..."

Adding to the issue, an unforeseen number of other cases and defendants have been affected because of this database error.

"The population database issue is going to be an issue in many, many cases, because the FBI population statistics are relied upon by the Department of Public Safety and every other DNA lab across the country."

In the end, with respect to Mr. Williams' life and the constitutionally-guaranteed rights this convicted murderer still possesses, even from behind the bars of death row, what is important, Huggler says, is that the error was caught.

"Why it took so long, I don't know. Or why it was the day before, I don't know. But the very good thing is at least we were notified."

DPS ran the DNA tests again, with corrected database information. They still say the DNA is that of Clifton Williams.

Now the 114th Court in Tyler, where Williams' case was originally heard, will take the matter up to determine if those errors might have affected the outcome of the case. Until then, Clifton Williams will remain behind bars in Huntsville.

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