Update September 28, 2012
Philadelphia Judge M. Teresa Sarmina has halted the scheduled October third execution of Terrance Williams. The decision was based on evidence that prosecutors suppressed information in Williams’ 1986 trial that the murder victim, Amos Norwood, was Williams’ sexual abuser for over a decade. According to Williams’ Lawyer, the jury that handed down the death sentence was told that Williams killed Norwood during the commission of a robbery. Also, the jury was not told that Williams’ accomplice, Marc Draper, was offered leniency by prosecutors if he would testify to their robbery scenario. Prosecutors conceded that if the sentencing hearing had been held today, the jury would have been told about any offers of leniency, but not necessarily about allegations of of sexual abuse that were never corroborated.
Sarmina upheld Williams’ conviction for first-degree murder, but called for a new sentencing hearing. Yesterday the state Board of Pardons agreed to hear Williams’ clemency plea.
Lawyers Fight to Save Death Row Inmate Who Killed His Sexual Abusers
No prisoner has been executed in the state of Pennsylvania since 1999, but if a Monday hearing for Terrance “Terry” Williams doesn’t go his way that streak will may end on October 3rd, when the 46-year-old is scheduled to become the first Quaker State inmate to be put to death in the 21st Century.
Williams has been on death row since 1986, when he was convicted for beating a 56-year-old man to death with a tire iron. His victim, Amos Norwood, was also his alleged abuser. According to defense lawyer Victor J. Abreu, Williams suffered more than a decade of sexual abuse at the hands of Norwood and other men, including Herbert Hamilton, for whose murder Williams received a life sentence.
Last week, the State Board of Pardons met to consider Williams’ death sentence. A majority — three of five board members, including Attorney General Linda Kelly — voted for clemency, but statutes require a unanimous decision in order to bring that recommendation to the Governor’s desk.
So Williams’ defense team has petitioned the Pardons Board to reconsider its vote based on an allegation that prosecutors misrepresented a key point during the first hearing. The defense says prosecutor Thomas Dolgenos told the Board that Federal Appeals courts had already ruled on the issue of co-defendant Mark Draper getting prosecutors to write the parole board on his behalf in exchange for testifying against Williams. Defense attorneys maintain that information was not discovered until after the Federal appeal.
Williams’ lawyers argue that he should receive a life sentence for Norwood’s killing as well. They say that key evidence of the abuse Williams suffered was not presented at his trial. Williams’ prosecutor at trial Andrea Foulkes (now a federal prosecutor) refuted the idea that law enforcement ignored Williams’ sexual rage motive: “It’s a complete lie.”
In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky case, public sympathy for child sexual abuse victims is running high in Pennsylvania. 286,000 supporters have signed a petition on Williams’ behalf. Even the victim’s widow, Mamie Norwood, has signed a declaration asking that Williams be spared execution.
Five of the jurors that sentenced Williams to death have since come forward to say that if they had known that a life sentence is not subject to parole they would have opted for the latter.
The Parole Board will re-hear Williams’ appeal on Monday. Even if they reach a unanimous decision to urge a commutation of the death sentence, Gov. Tom Corbitt is not obligated to follow their recommendation. Corbitt has already signed a death warrant for Williams back on August 9th.