Death-row inmate gains support despite a chilling rap sheet

Williams: Set to die Oct. 3.
Williams: Set to die Oct. 3.
Posted: September 20, 2012

FIVE MONTHS before Terrance Williams, at age 18, murdered the man whose slaying has landed him on Pennsylvania's death row, he murdered another man.

Between those murders, Williams pulled an armed robbery, court records show.

Before that, at age 16, Williams broke into the Mount Airy home of an elderly couple on Christmas Eve. He woke them by pressing the muzzle of a rifle against the woman's neck, threatened to blow her head off, fired the gun three times above the couple and ransacked their home before fleeing with valuables, according to the District Attorney's Office.

This is the chilling criminal history of the man who has supporters coming out of the woodwork trying to save his life as his Oct. 3 execution date nears.

Williams, 46, the former quarterback of Germantown High School's public-league championship team of 1982 and a former student at Cheyney State University, is worthy to be saved, say his supporters, because he was allegedly raped repeatedly, beginning at age 13, by his victim, Amos Norwood, 56.

Williams' team of federal public-defense attorneys will be in court Thursday trying to persuade Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina to grant a stay of execution on the grounds that a city prosecutor withheld evidence of the alleged sex abuse during Williams' 1986 trial.

If the stay is denied, an appeal will be filed to the state Supreme Court, defense attorney Shawn Nolan said, noting that on Tuesday a motion for reconsideration was filed with the state Board of Pardons. The board rejected Williams' clemency request Monday.

In the coalition that has spoken out to save Williams are Norwood's widow, Archbishop Charles Chaput, more than 350,000 online petitioners, retired judges and 26 child advocates.

"There can be no doubt that Terry was repeatedly and violently abused and exploited as a child and teenager by manipulative older men," the child advocates wrote in a letter to Gov. Corbett and the pardons board. "Terry's acts of violence have, alas, an explanation of the worst sort: enveloped by anger and self-hatred, Terry lashed out and killed two of the men who sexually abused him and caused him so much pain."

Nolan said that Williams has attracted so much support in part because the public is now more aware of the plight of juvenile victims of sexual abuse due to the recent trials of Catholic priests and former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

"Those things have taught us what happens to people who are severely sexually abused," Nolan said. "It's a rare case that cries out for mercy."

As for Williams' criminal activity in addition to the Norwood murder, Nolan said: "Those crimes were committed when he was a juvenile. Terry was just over 18 when he murdered Mr. Norwood. He was a damaged person and he made mistakes, but those bad decisions were a manifestation of the things that happened to him."

In June 1984, Williams beat Norwood with a tire iron, set his body on fire, stole his car and credit card and drove to Atlantic City with friends. He received the death penalty for the crime.

In January 1984, Williams lured Herbert Hamilton, 50, to bed and stabbed him repeatedly until he was dead. The two had been involved in a sex-for-money relationship, according to trial testimony. Williams was convicted of third-degree murder in that case.

Nolan alleges that Williams was 13 when a sexual - and, at times, violent - relationship began with Norwood. This year, for the first time, the defense began asserting that Norwood raped Williams the day before the murder.

District Attorney Seth Williams all but scoffs at that assertion. "In the 28 years since the murder of Amos Norwood, these new allegations only came to light just a few months ago, and he is not the one making the allegations," Williams said in a statement. "Not once has Williams actually testified under oath about all the abuse he allegedly suffered. . . . Instead, the allegations have generally been offered through friends and experts who were 'told' about the allegations."

Contact Mensah M. Dean at or 215-568-8278. Follow him on Twitter @MensahDean.

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