Making the case for Williams' execution

Terrance Williams, 46, is scheduled to be executed Oct. 3 for murder.
Terrance Williams, 46, is scheduled to be executed Oct. 3 for murder.
Posted: September 24, 2012

Seth Williams is district attorney of Philadelphia

My office has been criticized for stating that Terrance Williams - a brutal, two-time murderer whose case has been reviewed and upheld by every available court - should finally be subject to the sentence of death he received from a jury more than 25 years ago.

The case has received attention because of supposedly "new evidence" that Williams was sexually abused by his victim and others. But the most noticeable thing about this case is not the "new evidence." It's the willingness of some people to believe every defense claim as if it were gospel truth - without even taking the time to look at all the facts.

Here is what they show:

This is not Williams' only murder; it's his second - and the other murder was at least as calculated as this one. The evidence at trial established that Williams was a quarterback on his college varsity football team. But he had a double life he didn't want to come out: that he was a male prostitute with numerous older clients.

When one of these men, Herbert Hamilton, started talking too openly about the relationship, Williams told a friend that he was going to "take care of the problem." Several days later, he agreed to have sex with Hamilton. But he had carefully hidden a knife next to the bed. He pulled it out and stabbed Hamilton. The victim managed to fight back and tried to hide in the kitchen, but Williams chased him down, beat him with a bat, and stabbed him until he was dead - leaving the knife stuck halfway through the victim's throat. Then he tried to steal Hamilton's car.

A few days later, Williams told his friend that he had taken care of "the problem."

Williams had a history of burglary and armed robbery even before he started killing people. In 1981 he committed a residential burglary in Mount Airy. The following year, he embarked on yet another home invasion. This time he chose Christmas Eve to break into the house of an elderly couple asleep in bed. He put the muzzle of a rifle to the woman's neck and fired three times above their heads before ransacking the premises.

On another occasion, he broke into the home of a female friend and stole money and two guns. Then, between the two murders, while out on bail, he robbed another victim at gunpoint.

Now Williams says that he only killed his most recent victim, Amos Norwood, in a "rage" because Norwood supposedly "raped" him the night before. But the story keeps changing.

At the trial, Williams testified under oath that he wasn't even there.

A decade later, Williams started claiming that he had been abused by numerous men in his life. But he neglected ever to mention anything about Norwood raping him the night before the murder.

Two months ago, Williams finally described his supposed "relationship" with Norwood. He said he'd repeatedly had sex with Norwood for money, taking as much as $500 on one occasion. On the night before the murder, allegedly, he again agreed to have sex with the victim, but Norwood was "rough" and Williams was "hurt and mad."

Williams neglected to offer any account of how he came to be with Norwood the following night, in a deserted cemetery, where he accosted the victim with an accomplice, bound his hands and feet, gagged him with a sock, beat him to death with a tire iron, burned his body to destroy any prints, and went on a gambling spree in Atlantic City with the victim's car and credit card.

And just this month, the story changed again. This time Williams presented a new version in which he agreed to have sex on the night of the crime, just moments before the murder.

The murderer whose word is now accepted without question has a long history of perjury and manipulation. In the Hamilton case, Williams left a fake "confession" scrawled on a mirror in order to throw suspicion on another suspect. When the ploy failed and he was arrested, he insisted that he hadn't even been there. But when he found out there was a bloody palm print on the baseball bat that exactly matched his own, he "remembered" that he was there, but that it was "self-defense."

In this case, Williams got to the main witness, who was housed under protective custody, and delivered a series of letters in which he directed the witness to testify to various invented versions of the crime. The versions changed over time as Williams thought of new ways to counter the commonwealth's case. Then, for the trial, Williams actually manufactured and introduced a piece of fake physical evidence. A witness had seen him wearing a pair of blood-spattered sneakers shortly after the murder. Williams took a similar pair and sprinkled them with ketchup, in an effort to convince the jury that the stains were not blood, just condiment.

But perhaps the most shameless lie is Williams' insulting effort to compare himself to the victims of Jerry Sandusky and clergy sex abuse. Those victims were understandably afraid to say anything to anyone, ever.

Not Williams. He's been claiming sexual abuse as an excuse for his crimes for a decade and a half, ever since his previous fabrications failed. There was a neighbor boy, allegedly, and a friend, and a teacher, and his cellmates at the youth detention center, all of whom supposedly took advantage of him.

The only claim he hasn't been making is the one he has suddenly unveiled now - that 56-year-old, 130-pound Amos Norwood violently raped Williams, the college quarterback, shortly before the murder. Only on the eve of execution does this additional embellishment emerge.

I understand that people can have a reasonable debate about the death penalty. But if we're going to have that debate, let's not dress it up in questionable claims by a twice-convicted murderer who has tried every trick to escape his sentence.


E-mail Seth Williams at seth.williams@phila.gov.

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