By contrast, Williams, 46, hopes to fight on. He is attempting one final bid to have his sentence commuted to life. Having exhausted other appeals through the state and federal appellate courts, however, Williams could face execution by lethal injection as early as Oct. 3.
Yet there is good reason to spare Williams' life - signed death warrant or not.
The defendant's death-penalty conviction illustrates many of the flaws that rightly erode public confidence in capital punishment and helps make the case for scrapping the death penalty.
At his trial, Williams' defense attorneys never put evidence before the jury that could have spared their client's life. At the time barely 18 years old, Williams had a history of being sexual abused, including at the hands of his victim - a potentially mitigating factor that might have made a big difference in his sentencing.
Just as important, some jurors in Williams trial have since said they opted for the death penalty on the mistaken belief that the defendant could have been paroled if given life in prison.
Such missteps are all too common, especially when Philadelphia defendants receive a rushed defense by court-appointed counsel working for minimal retainers. Nationally, such poor legal counsel is an important factor in why the death penalty falls disproportionately on poor and minority defendants, studies show.
Beyond any flaws in Williams' defense, his threatened execution would come at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court itself has begun questioning what Justice Harry A. Blackmun famously called "the machinery of death."
As a killer who perpetrated an earlier third-degree murder at age 17, and then committed first-degree murder shortly after coming of age, Williams effectively fits the profile of the juvenile defendants for whom the Supreme Court now has banned execution.
In fact, even the widow of Williams' victim is said to support commuting his sentence to life without parole. That's perfectly in line with the nation's growing unease over the death penalty.
The right course clearly would be for Philadelphia prosecutors to intervene and recommend tearing up the death warrant for Terrance Williams. Justice can be served without his execution.