It is a difficult feeling to describe, sitting in a room under a large green glass dome watching two women and three men decide, behind ornately decorated dark wood, the life of a man, who at that moment was miles away in a cell. On the afternoon of Monday September 17th that is just what I did. I sat there, in that room, listening as the pardons board of Pennsylvania considered the life of Terrance Williams.
When Mr. Williams was 17 years old, he murdered Amos Norwood, a man in his 50s that Williams had met at a church. They were involved in sexual encounters, the degree of which are argued, for as long as four years. The District Attorney’s Office does not deny the existence of the sexual relationship between the two. Surprisingly, Williams’ age at the time has not been a consideration of the DA’s office, despite the law in Pennsylvania for second-degree statutory sexual assault concerning a person 16 years or younger engaging in intercourse, out of wedlock, with some one four or more years older than themselves.
Williams is now 46. The DA’s office maintains that the teenage Williams committed prostitution and have alluded to the acceptance of goods from Norwood for sex as consent, despite his age, and deny Williams’ allegations that he was forcibly raped by Norwood.
No information about the sexual relationship between Norwood and Williams, nor any information about the physical and sexual abuse Williams endured throughout his life, was presented at the initial murder trial. Such information is pertinent, particularly in sentencing, when a death sentence is a possibility. The hearing on Thursday is to determine whether the prosecution in the initial trial withheld the evidence of abuse purposefully and if Williams’ defense team can present this ‘new evidence’.
Only months before the Norwood trial, Williams was convicted of the murder of 50-year-old Herbert Hamilton, also prosecuted by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office. The jury in that case was made aware of Hamilton’s attempt at a sexual relationship with the teenage Williams and convicted him of third degree murder in that case. A third degree murder conviction does not allow for the death penalty in Pennsylvania.
Mamie Norwood, the widow of Amos Norwood, has publicly asked for clemency for Williams. Her declaration to the court goes beyond any belief in the death penalty itself. “He is worthy of forgiveness,” she states, “and I am at peace with my decision to forgive him and have been for many years. I wish to see his life spared.” At the pardons hearing, representatives for the DA’s office maintained that Mrs. Norwood, who testified at the initial trial that she saw Terrance Williams on her porch the night of Amos Norwood’s murder, was now ‘elderly’ and that her position was weighted by religious sentiment, in an attempt to belittle her request for mercy.
A recent study commissioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee is a serious consideration for this case, with all of the flaws it highlights in the Pennsylvania death penalty system. Williams would be the first non-volunteer execution in Pennsylvania in over half a century. “Carrying out an execution before our work is completed over the next fifteen months would greatly undermine the legislative intent of Senate Resolution 6 – a comprehensive study of the effectiveness of capital punishment in Pennsylvania, as it pertains to cost, fairness, proportionality, impact, and many other factors.” Republican Senator Stewart Greenleaf and Democratic Senator Daylin Leach stated in the letter, along with a dozen fellow committee members.
The committee adds its letter to the growing number of endorsements to reconsider the case against Mr. Williams from the victims’ widow, former jurors, former prosecutors, faith leaders and others. A petition for Mr. Williams’ clemency has reached upwards of 350,000 signatures on a change.org. Today a Common Pleas Court Judge in Philadelphia will decide if Williams will be executed October 3 or if all of the evidence never presented, and possibly withheld, from the first trial deserves consideration before Pennsylvania endeavors to take the life of Terrance Williams.
UPDATE: Thursday September 20th
This morning, September 20th, the defense team for Terrance Williams questioned the original prosecutor, Andrea Foulkes. The defense’s questioning of her went into the afternoon recess. Among some of the most crucial pieces of information were Foulkes’ closing statement in 1986 where she characterizes Williams’ murder victims as completely innocent of any wrong doing when she was aware at that time that the men Williams killed had led questionable lives. (The reasoning for a murder directly affects the degree of the severity of the crime, and thus the sentencing.)
Also, at a point in the original trial a Reverend of St Luke’s, where Norwood volunteered with young boys, was questioned under oath about Norwood’s sketchy past. Foulkes objected to the Reverend being asked the question and it was then not responded to. Foulkes could not justify the objection. Another important omission, discovery in the Hamilton case (any relevant information about the case and is required of the DA’s office) to Williams’ attorneys on the Norwood case. There is no official notification of the discovery being sent to the defense. The current DA’s office contends it was the trial ‘transcripts’ that were not sent, despite having no evidence of sending either.
The hearing continues this afternoon with the prosecution’s cross examination of Andrea Foulkes and the testimony of Marc Draper, who testified against Williams to lessen his own sentence as an accomplice to the Hamilton and Norwood murders. Draper has said the prosecution instructed him to not mention the sexual abuse Norwood inflicted upon Williams.
UPDATE (6:45 PM) :
Thursday September 20th hearing is to continue on Monday September 24th.
UPDATE: Monday September 24, 2012
Marc Draper took the stand today. Draper testified against Terrance Williams during the initial trial in1986 and only recently has recanted his statements from all those years ago maintaining he was coerced. Draper stated, “If Williams is executed on testimony prior to this (testimony of September 24, 2012) it would be wrong.”
Later in the day after an afternoon break Draper continued and when asked about why he would withhold, until now, that his previous testimony was coerced, he said, “I was a sheep to do that, I regret that. I’m embarrassed to say I was so gullible.” and “I believed I would get paroled.”
Closing arguments commence Tuesday September 25th.
UPDATE: Friday September 28, 2012
The Judge ruled a stay would be granted and that Williams was entitled to a new penalty phase. The prosecution of the intial case was found to have withheld and even suppressed evidence. You can read the opinion of the judge here. You can read the statement of Terrance Williams’ attorney’s here.
UPDATE: Monday October 1, 2012
Immediately following Friday’s verdict the District Attorney’s office filed an appeal and released a statement you can read here. The appeal is now before Judge Ronald Castille, who was the District Attorney from the original case against Terrance Williams in 1986. He did not prosecute the case, but as District Attorney he did sign off on it. Terrance Williams’ lawyers filed a motion to recuse Judge Castille this morning Monday October 1. As of 8PM the motion for recusal was denied by Judge Castille as was the request for referral to the full court.