Judge says she will announce Friday whether Terrance Williams' execution can proceed

Terrance Williams has exhausted his appeals.
Terrance Williams has exhausted his appeals.
Posted: September 27, 2012

A Philadelphia judge said she will announce Friday whether she will halt the Oct. 3 execution of Terrance Williams for the 1984 killing of Amos Norwood.

Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina's announcement came Tuesday after two days of testimony on the defense claim that the 1986 trial prosecutor withheld evidence from and misled the jury before it condemned the then-18-year-old Cheyney University freshman.

Williams, 46, has exhausted his federal and state appeals and, barring emergency judicial intervention, will become the first person executed in Pennsylvania in 13 years and the first contested execution in a half-century.

Williams' lawyers argue that the jury would have opted for life in prison without parole had the prosecutor disclosed evidence that Norwood, 56, had sexually molested Williams since Williams was 13.

Instead, said defense lawyer Billy Nolas, the prosecutor portrayed Norwood's killing as the brutal culmination of a robbery of an innocent man.

"It's clear as day," Nolas told Sarmina during oral arguments Tuesday. "The sentence was unconstitutionally unreliable. The jury voted for death based on misinformation."

The arguments by Nolas and Deputy District Attorney Ronald Eisenberg followed a morning during which Nolas outlined newly discovered evidence that investigators had more information about Norwood's sexual activities than was disclosed to Williams' attorney in 1986.

Eisenberg told Sarmina the evidence in the notes and files of homicide detectives investigating Norwood's June 11, 1984, killing was essentially what Williams' lawyers already knew from Marc Draper, Williams' admitted accomplice, who became the chief prosecution witness.

Moreover, Eisenberg said, Williams knew the truth and chose to testify that he was not present when Norwood was killed.

"The commonwealth cannot suppress what is in [Williams'] mind," Eisenberg told Sarmina. "If anyone knew there was an abusive relationship between Williams and Norwood, it was Williams."

The information also indirectly supported Draper's claim in testimony Monday that Homicide Sgt. Dan Rosenstein pressured him to say Norwood had been killed in a robbery rather than by Williams in a sexual rage.

In earlier testimony, the prosecutor in Williams' trial, Andrea Foulkes, testified that Draper never told her about police pressure and that there was no evidence of an interrogation by Rosenstein.

But homicide time sheets from July 1984 showed that Rosenstein was with Draper before he was interviewed by detectives and also took Draper for lie-detector tests about the killings of Norwood and Donna Friedman, a pregnant suburban mother of two found dead in the trunk of her car on July 5, 1984.

Draper testified that Rosenstein threatened to have him charged in Friedman's killing - it remains unsolved - if he did not support the Norwood robbery theory.

Nolas argued that this information - and other information that became available before the trial - proved that Foulkes should never have argued to the jury in seeking the death penalty that Norwood was murdered during a robbery.

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

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