Decision day could come today for death-row inmate

Posted: September 28, 2012

WHETHER convicted murderer Terrance Williams is executed in less than a week may very well be decided in a Philadelphia courtroom Friday morning.

Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina is scheduled to take the bench at 10 a.m. to announce if she will stay the Oct. 3 execution or let it go forward, leaving Williams in jeopardy of becoming the first inmate in 13 years to be executed in Pennsylvania.

On Thursday, meanwhile, the state Board of Pardons voted unanimously to take under advisement Williams' second request for clemency. It rejected his first request last week.

Any board action would come after Sarmina's ruling, and a vote to commute his sentence to life in prison without parole would be a recommendation that Gov. Corbett could only affirm or reject.

Janet Kelley, Corbett's spokesman, has said that he will uphold state law if "called upon to perform his statutory and constitutional duty."

Williams, 46, is facing death for the 1984 murder of Amos Norwood, 56, a church-going, married father from Mount Airy whom Williams and an accomplice beat to death and robbed.

During a three-day evidentiary hearing that began last week, Williams' legal team argued that he killed Norwood out of rage at having been sexually abused by him from the ages of 13 to 18. They told Sarmina that the prosecution had suppressed the sexual-abuse evidence from the jury to get the death sentence.

Prosecutors countered that no evidence had been hidden and that the case has been litigated all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Williams is now lying about the abuse in the 11th hour to save his life, the prosecution contends.

If Sarmina stays the execution or vacates the sentence, the prosecution can file an emergency appeal to the state Supreme Court. Likewise, the defense can appeal to the same court if she denies their stay request.

"We're hopeful everything comes out well for Terry," defense attorney Shawn Nolan said. "Judge Sarmina has been paying very close attention to everything."

Marc Bookman, executive director of the nonprofit Atlantic Center for Capital Representation, said: "I would go broke predicting what Judge Sarmina would do, but I'm cautiously optimistic that she has heard enough evidence to grant a stay of execution."

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

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