Killer loses bid for clemency

Terrance "Terry" Williams was convicted ofa 1984 murder.
Terrance "Terry" Williams was convicted ofa 1984 murder.
Posted: September 18, 2012

HARRISBURG - Condemned Philadelphia killer Terrance Williams lost his bid for clemency Monday when a divided state Board of Pardons failed to unanimously recommend his case for consideration by Gov. Corbett.

Nevertheless, advocates for Williams - scheduled for execution on Oct. 3 for the 1984 murder of Mount Airy churchman Amos Norwood - cited the fact that three of the five-member board voted to spare Williams' life and some suggested Corbett might still not be barred from commuting his sentence to life in prison without parole.

Monday's session was the first clemency hearing in a death penalty case in 50 years. Pennsylvania voters in 1997 amended the state constitution to require the board's vote for clemency be unanimous instead of a majority. But advocates suggested after the hearing that because the 1997 amendment was spurred by the commutation of a life sentence, the change might not apply to a death-penalty case.

The board granted the Williams case three times its usual 30 minutes to enable defense attorneys and two lawyers for the Philadelphia District Attorney's office to argue their positions.

The board then deliberated in private for about 35 minutes before returning to the ornate state Supreme Court chamber in the Capitol to vote.

Voting for clemency were state Attorney General Linda L. Kelly; Louise B. Williams, the board's victim representative; and board psychologist Russell A. Walsh.

Voting against clemency was Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, who chairs the board, and Harris Gubernick, the board's corrections expert.

None of the five members discussed the reasons for their vote.

The board heard two dramatically contrasting portraits of Williams, 46. Defense attorney Shawn Nolan and six witnesses told of a boy beaten and abused by his mother and stepfather "virtually from the moment of his birth."

Williams was then sexually molested by several boys and men including five years of rapes and molestation by Norwood.

"When you look at a victim sexually abused since he was five years old, I don't see how you can deny him mercy," Nolan told the board.

Since Sept. 7, when they filed the motion for clemency before the Pardons Board, Williams' lawyers have been in a legal and public campaign to show he should not be executed. They have cited Williams' youth - he was three months past 18, the minimum age for capital punishment - when he committed the crime and that the Philadelphia jury that condemned him did not know of years of sexual abuse at the hands of his victim and other men.

Williams' lawyers have the support of Norwood's 75-year-old widow, Mamie Norwood, in pleading for his life. And they have obtained three sworn statements this year from his admitted accomplice in the Norwood killing.

Those statements by Marc Draper, like Williams just 18 at the time of the killings, maintain that he told police Williams killed Norwood in a rage over his sexual abuse at the hands of the Episcopal church deacon and acolyte leader.

Instead, Draper now says, police told him to testify that the murder was part of a robbery and the prosecutor assured him of support in seeking parole if he stuck to the robbery story at trial.

Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Thomas Dolgenos, however, argued that "there was simply no evidence" other than Draper's recantation that Williams was ever molested. Certainly, Dolgenos said, Williams never made that claim at his 1986 trial or his subsequent appeals until 1998.

"He has every motivation to make those allegations [of abuse] now," Dolgenos argued. "He has a history of manipulation."

Assistant District Attorney Bridget Kirn said she spoke Sunday night with Norwood's daughter, Barbara C. Norwood-Harris, now 51, who Kirn said opposed clemency.

"She said [her father] was not a child molester and was known for his good works in the community," Kirn told the board.

Neither Mamie Norwood nor her daughter were present and neither was Williams, who was interviewed privately by the board last Thursday for 90 minutes.

Four of Williams' cousins were present - Robert, Radu, Marvin and Lavadia O'Connor - and afterward they publicly thanked Williams' legal team from the Federal Defender's death penalty unit in Philadelphia.

Robert O'Connor also said they wanted to express their condolences to Williams' victims and thank Mamie Norwood for her support: "We understand how very hard in must have been for someone in her personal situation to come forward."

The courtroom was filled to capacity with lawyers, students, reporters, victim and inmate advocates, all interested in the first death penalty clemency hearing in 50 years.

With Williams' state and federal appeals exhausted all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the former Germantown High School quarterback's last hope of escaping becoming the first person executed in Pennsylvania in 13 years lies in a hearing Thursday before Philadelphia Common Pleas M. Teresa Sarmina.

Thursday's hearing on Williams' emergency stay-of-execution motion is to include testimony from Draper and Andrea Foulkes, a federal prosecutor in Philadelphia who as an assistant district attorney prosecuted Williams for the Norwood killing in 1986.

Draper, now 46, is serving life after pleading guilty to second-degree murder and testifying against Williams for the prosecution.

Williams was convicted and condemned for the June 11, 1984 murder of Norwood, who was last seen leaving his Mount Airy home to volunteer at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Germantown.

Norwood's charred body, his skull shattered by a tire iron, was found four days later in Ivy Hill Cemetery.

Corbett signed Williams' death warrant Aug. 9 in what would be the state's first execution since 1999 and first contested execution since 1962.


Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985, jslobodzian@phillynews.com, or @joeslobo on Twitter.

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