Terrance Williams misses his date with executioner

Terrance Williams , condemned in 1986.
Terrance Williams , condemned in 1986.
Posted: October 05, 2012

Convicted killer Terrance Williams missed his date with the executioner Wednesday after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court refused a prosecution request to allow the execution to occur.

In an unsigned one-sentence order, the state's high court decided to take more time - possibly months - to review Friday's ruling by Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina. Sarmina ruled that the integrity of Williams' 1986 death sentence had been undermined by new evidence that the trial prosecutor withheld information that Williams was sexually molested by his victim.

Williams attorney Shawn Nolan thanked more than 380,000 people who signed an Internet clemency petition.

"The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has wisely decided to consider all of the evidence before making a final decision, and we look forward to presenting our case in the coming months," Nolan said.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said in a statement that he continues to believe that Terrance Williams is one of the few who deserves the death penalty and that "his new claims are not true."

"The case will now proceed as a normal appeal to the Supreme Court," Williams said. "This is not the first time the prosecution has appealed a capital case, and it probably won't be the last."

Terrance Williams, 46, came close to being the first person executed in Pennsylvania in more than a decade. The state has executed just three people since reenacting the death penalty in 1978 and all three abandoned appeals and asked for death. The last contested execution was in 1962.

Williams, 46, condemned in 1986 for the June 11, 1984, murder of Amos Norwood, a 56-year-old Germantown man, was an 18-year-old Cheyney University freshman and former high school quarterback.

Williams had exhausted his federal and state appeals and Gov. Corbett signed a death warrant Aug. 9.

But Williams' legal team from the federal defender's death penalty unit in Philadelphia filed for an emergency stay of execution, contending the trial prosecutor withheld information that Norwood had a history of sexually abusing teenage boys.

Williams himself claimed he was molested by Norwood from age 13 until the night before the killing, although at trial Williams testified he did not know Norwood and did not kill him.

City prosecutors called Williams' eleventh-hour motion a ploy to escape execution and told Sarmina there was no independent corroboration Williams was sexually abused by Norwood or anyone else.

But after two days of testimony by the prosecutor - Andrea Foulkes, now a federal prosecutor in Philadelphia - and Marc Draper, Williams' admitted accomplice in the Norwood killing, Sarmina said she did not believe Williams got a fair sentencing hearing.

In Williams' plea for clemency, defense lawyers submitted statements from five trial jurors who said they would have sentenced Williams to life had they known of Norwood's proclivities.

Sarmina affirmed Williams' guilty verdict in Norwood's killing. Her ruling left it to prosecutors to conduct a new sentencing hearing or let Williams serve life in prison without chance of parole.

Since then, lawyers from the District Attorney's Office and Williams' team have filing dueling motions trying to convince the Supreme Court.

A tip that someone was using Norwood's credit card led police to arrest Draper, the son of a city police officer. Draper, then also 18 and a Cheyney freshman and childhood friend of Williams, quickly admitted joining Williams in killing Norwood.

Draper, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and is now serving life without parole, also told police Williams admitted to him that he had killed a West Philadelphia man named Herbert Hamilton, 50, on Jan. 26, 1984.

Draper became Foulkes' key prosecution witness at both trials but the jury convicted Williams of third-degree murder in Hamilton's death after evidence that Hamilton was a pedophile and was trying to force Williams to have sex.


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

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