Governor Tom Corbett has just signed a death warrant to execute a man on October 3rd of this year…13 years after the last person was executed in Pennsylvania. Terrance Williams, now 46, is set to be executed for murdering Amos Norwood in 1984 when Williams was just 18 years old. Williams has appealed three times through state and federal courts and the United States Supreme Court declined to hear his case. While many attorneys expect that he will most likely be executed, there is one last hope for him.
Williams’ accomplice during the murder, Marc Draper, ended up being the prosecution’s key witness in the trial. Draper, who himself was convicted of second-degree murder for his part in the killing, testified that Norwood’s murder started out as a robbery. But on January 9th, he recanted his original testimony, saying the police coerced him into saying it was a robbery. Now Draper is saying that Williams was sexually abused through his life, including by the person he murdered. Because of this, Williams’ attorney has filed an emergency petition asking for a stay of execution. Experts say it is this petition that could save Williams’ life.
Williams had a history of sexual abusers early in his life: his mother, stepfather, neighbor, and teacher, among others. But this information was not presented to the Common Pleas Court who convicted and sentenced him. In an unrelated case, Terrance Williams was convicted of third degree murder for killing 50 year-old Herbert Hamilton, he argued in self-defense, after Hamilton made sexual advances. Had the jury known that Norwood sexually abused Williams when he was as young as 13 and that the murder occurred because of that, they may not have been so eager to sentence him to death. In addition, out of five of the jurors who were recently interviewed as to why they voted for the death penalty, all five said it was because they were under the mistaken impression that Williams would be eligible for parole if they voted for life in prison. They voted for the death penalty so Williams would never be free again.
Since Pennsylvania reenacted the death penalty in 1978, only three people have been put to death: two in 1995 and one in 1999. And all three of them had ended their appeals without exhausting their options, essentially accepting the death penalty. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office has until September 21st to respond to his petition. Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina will decide if this new information is compelling enough to block the October 3rd execution.