A state judge tossed out the death sentence for TerranceWilliams, a convicted killer who was facing lethal injection for murdering two of his rapists. The judge tossed the death sentence just five days before the scheduled date for execution. The judge ruled that prosecutors hid crucial mitigating evidence from defense attorneys before Williams’ trial nearly 30 years ago.
Philadelphia’s district attorney called the ruling “improper” and said he would appeal immediately to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
The story of Terrance Williams (also known as Terry), of Pennsylvania, is one that causes heartache and anguish. When Williams was 17- and 18-years old, he killed two men. One man was a church leader and the other man was a sports booster. Williams was sentenced the death penalty for his acts, but one critical piece of information was left out of the trial prior to his conviction: Williams’ victims had brutally raped him for years. The men had used their positions to lure younger boys into their paths, so that they could sexually assault them.
In addition to allegedly being sexually assaulted by the men he murdered, Williams was sexually abused by other older individuals throughout his life. His mother had abused him frequently in the absence of his father. He was initially sexually assaulted when he was just six years old. The abuse continued steadily for the next 12 years of his life. He did not receive treatment or help from anyone for the duration of his suffering.
Williams’ accusations were proven valid when a colleague of the pastor that Williams killed in his youth completed an affidavit earlier this year stating that he’d known the pastor to be a pedophile. He’d known the pastor for 30-years. “Amos seemed to have lots of close relationships with young men…” Pastor Charles Pointdexter stated in an affidavit signed February 9, 2012. Pointdexter said that he began to suspect that they were “inappropriate” in nature. A few years before Amos’s death, one of the parishioners, the mother of a 15-year-old boy, told him that Pastor Amos Norwood, the pastor that Williams killed, had “touched her son’s genitals” during a car ride and that “Amos had inappropriately touched a number of boys at the church.” Pointdexter kept the knowledge to himself.
Williams admitted to being embarrassed and ashamed by the abuse, and attributed his shame and embarrassment to his decision to not present his experiences as evidence for trial. His lawyer also failed to conduct a thorough investigation of Williams’ motivations for killing the men, and ignored signs of sexual abuse. Among those objecting to his sentencing include the wife of one victim, five jurors from the trial, judges, child advocates, former prosecutors, faith leaders, mental health professionals, and law professors. Jurors from the trial have signed sworn affidavits stating they would not have voted for execution had they known about his experiences with sexual abuse as a child. Several jurors have also said that they voted for him to be executed because they believed that, if they had not, Williams would be eligible for release on parole.
A widow of one victim said that she has forgiven Williams and does not want any more deaths to come of the incident. She hopes that Governor Tom Corbett, the Board of Pardons, and District Attorney Williams will reduce his sentence to life without parole. A life sentence in Pennsylvania means the convicted will never be eligible for parole. Pennsylvania is the only state in the U.S. that does not require judges to explain to the jury that a life sentence means there is no possibility of parole. No explanation of life sentencing was given at Williams’ trial.
Terry Williams’ death warrant for October 3 was signed by Gov. Corbett during the first week of September. Corbett is a Catholic Republican. Courts have agreed that Williams’ lawyer failed to give him a fair trial, but they have also stated that evidence of sexual abuse would not have made a difference in the sentencing. Thankfully, that has now changed.