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August 11, 2012

Might Pennsylvania finally get serious about carrying out death sentences?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent local story, which is headlined "Execution warrant issued for ex-Phila. man." Here are the details:

Thirteen years after Pennsylvania last executed a person, a 46-year-old former Philadelphia man has been ordered put to death by lethal injection Oct. 3. The death warrant for Terrance Williams -- convicted in a 1984 robbery-murder when he was an 18-year-old college freshman -- was signed Thursday by Gov. Corbett.

Experts say Williams' execution is likely to happen.  He has exhausted three appellate avenues through state and federal courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his last appeal June 29.

Williams' only legal hope is an emergency petition asking a Philadelphia judge to stay execution based on newly discovered evidence that Williams had been sexually molested throughout his life -- including for five years by the man he murdered.

Williams' lawyer, Shawn Nolan, assistant chief of the death-penalty unit at the Federal Defender's Office in Philadelphia, said the victim, Amos Norwood, 56, had a sexual relationship with Williams that began when Williams was 13.  And in January, Nolan said, Williams' admitted accomplice recanted his original testimony that Norwood was killed in a robbery.  In a Jan. 9 sworn statement, Marc Draper said Williams killed Norwood because of the abusive nature of their sexual relationship.  Police coerced him into saying robbery was the motive, he said.

None of that information -- including background on Williams' physical abuse by his mother and stepfather, and childhood sexual abuse by a neighbor and a teacher -- was presented to the Common Pleas Court jury that condemned Williams to death in February 1986.  "The jury didn't know about any of these things," Nolan said.  "And it's important.  A number of jurors have told us that if they had known about it, they wouldn't have sentenced him to death."

August 11, 2012 at 09:54 PM | Permalink


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Add a violent upbringing to the lawyer Twilight Zone list. It should be an aggravating factor, because it makes the person more dangerous, just as do insanity and youth. Instead, they are mitigating factors and excuses in this upside down, pro-criminal world of the lawyer.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 11, 2012 11:53:19 PM

I find Williams story very hard to swallow. He was an armed robber before the murders, he killed the victims during robberies and kept this story about molestation to himself for nearly three decades only revealing it as an execution date approached. We are expected to take the felon's word for it because the victims, who could refute his accusations, are dead. Dead, because he killed them.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Aug 11, 2012 11:58:32 PM

The death penalty is a strategy. So what are the objectives it is intended to accomplish in this case?

Posted by: Tom McGee | Aug 12, 2012 12:32:35 AM

Never mind that a number of jurors reportedly indicated they wouldn't have supported execution if they'd known about the abusive relationship.

Never mind that the cops reportedly dismissed the defendant's story way back when the case was being investigated...even if it does cast doubt on MikeinCT's assertion the defendant withheld his "excuse" for 30 years.

Never mind that a witness in the case apparently has supported the defendant's sex-victim story.

Never mind that it probably wouldn't be especially difficult to corroborate or debunk the defendant's story. It would be burdensome and inefficient to ask the authorities to go to all the trouble and, worse, would create a bothersome precedent.

No, what's important is that MikeinCT simply doesn't believe this guy's story. So...give him the needle. Right?

Posted by: John K | Aug 12, 2012 8:59:34 AM

Never mind that this case has been litigated for almost 30 years and the defendant is ice-cold guilty of a calculated murder any way you cut it. What's important is that John K has yet to see a criminal he can't make an excuse for, so give the killer yet more delay.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 12, 2012 9:12:22 AM

Never mind that his story still lacks any real credibility, this man is about to be executed. Hence, he has to be believed.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Aug 12, 2012 9:49:05 AM

MikeinCT --

Don't you love it how these stories of abuse get pumped up (1) after the alleged abuser can no longer speak for himself, and (2) just as the carrying out of the execution becomes a realistic possibility.

My goodness, what a coincidence!

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 12, 2012 10:05:03 AM

I don't even particularly care if it is true or not. At this point they should only get a hearing if there is new evidence. That to me is evidence that wasn't known about and couldn't be found through dilligent efforts. He "knew" he was sexually abused, so it clearly is not new evidence. Just evidence that wasn't presented. That is no basis for a new sentencing hearing.

The retraction and claim of forced testimony is more troubling. Though I have serious doubts of that too. I wouldn't be able to judge that through an article, though I'd be more surprised if it was true than if it was a friend trying to "help a guy out."

Posted by: Matt | Aug 12, 2012 10:51:42 AM

|| In a Jan. 9 sworn statement, Marc Draper said Williams killed Norwood because of the abusive nature of their sexual relationship. Police coerced him into saying robbery was the motive, he said. ||

Did police coerce him into commiting robbery? How about murder?

Posted by: Adamakis | Aug 13, 2012 9:36:30 AM

So your saying what, that even if it's true the cops superimposed their motive for the killing (and jettisoned the one Draper initially copped to) you're OK with that?

Because after all, anything cops do to embellish facts and maximize punishment benefits society?

Is there no meaningful difference in your mind between a guy who kills a stranger he's robbed -- possibly to eliminate the victim as a witness -- and a guy who kills and robs an acquaintance who had victimized him?

What about the jurors who indicated the sex-abuse motive would have mattered -- had they know about it -- in the penalty phase? Should their perspective matter?

Bill, I'm not making excuses for Draper. I don't want him freed. I'm just trying to understand how he fits into the worst-of-the-worst category of death-penalty candidates.

Posted by: John K | Aug 13, 2012 2:44:26 PM

Meant Williams (the killer), not Draper (the witness).

Posted by: John K | Aug 13, 2012 3:14:40 PM

@John K
"Bill, I'm not making excuses for Draper. I don't want him freed. I'm just trying to understand how he fits into the worst-of-the-worst category of death-penalty candidates."

And this sentence I feel betrays your intentions. What motivates you is the desire to keep an inmate from being executed, not that you really feel there is something about his story that should mitigate his guilt. If I believed his story I'd be fine with him seeing parole in the near future. 28 years in prison for killing people who, if he is to be believed, sexually abused him as a child seems more than severe enough.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Aug 14, 2012 2:41:32 PM

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