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Classification: Homicide - Murderer
Characteristics: Juvenile (17) - History of sexual abuse - Robberies - Burned the body
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: January 26/June 11,1984
Date of arrest: July 23, 1984 (surrenders)
Date of birth: February 27, 1966
Victims profile: Herbert Hamilton, 50 / Amos Norwood, 56
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife / Beating with a tire iron and a wrench
Location: Pennsylvania, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on July 1, 1987

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania






Petition for Executive Clemency


Terrance Williams was a convicted murderer sentenced to death in Pennsylvania on July 1, 1987, for a murder committed at age of 18.


In February 1986, Terrance Williams was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to die for senselessly murdering Amos Norwood during a robbery. Williams was formally sentenced on July 1, 1987. Williams had already been convicted of murder and robbery in two separate cases at the time of his 1986 trial.

From appellate record:

At approximately 1:00 a.m. on December 25, 1982, Williams and a co-defendant broke into an elderly couple’s home in the West Mount Airy section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, robbed them at gunpoint, and then stole their car. Williams was a few months shy of his seventeenth birthday. He was certified for trial as an adult, convicted of two counts each of robbery, recklessly endangering another person, terroristic threats, and simple assault, and one count each of burglary, criminal conspiracy, theft and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. He was sentenced to 12 ˝ to 25 years imprisonment.

While Williams was awaiting trial in the robbery, he murdered Herbert Hamilton. While he was on bail awaiting sentencing for the robbery, he murdered Amos Norwood.

He was sentenced to death in the Norwood murder case, and the convictions in the robbery case and the one involving Herbert Hamilton were used as aggravating circumstances to secure that sentence.


Terrance "Terry" Williams (born 1968 in Pennsylvania) is a prisoner sentenced to death for a murder committed at the age of 18. He was convicted and sentenced to 27 years for a third-degree murder he committed six months earlier. He was scheduled to be executed on October 3, 2012, but on September 28th, 2012 a Philadelphia judge, Teresa Saramina, granted a stay of execution.

Murders of Hamilton and Norwood

In January, 1984, Williams stabbed to death Herbert Hamilton, a 50-year-old resident of West Philadelphia. Williams was a 17-year-old at the time of the murder. Williams lured Hamilton to bed, then stabbed him over 20 times and beat him with a baseball bat.

As cited from court records: "Williams retrieved a nearby baseball bat, chased after [Herbert] Hamilton, and chased him before the police shooting Williams later. until Hamilton was bloody and severely wounded. Williams then recovered the butcher knife and stabbed Hamilton approximately twenty times--twice in the head, ten times in the back, once in the neck, four times in the chest, and once each in the abdomen, arm, and thumb. Finally, Williams drove the butcher knife through the back of Hamilton's neck until it protruded through the other side. He then doused Hamilton's body with kerosene and unsuccessfully attempted to set fire to it."

Six months later, Williams, then 18, and Marc Draper convinced Amos Norwood to go to a cemetery, where they beat him to death with a tire iron and then hid the body behind some tombstones. Williams later returned and set the body on fire. Williams took Norwood's car, along with cash and credit cards he stole from the body, and drove to Atlantic City with Draper and Ronald Rucker.

Again citing from court records: "Williams exited the vehicle, approached Draper, and said quietly, "Play it off like you going home, like you want a ride home, and we gonna take some money." Draper understood Williams to be proposing a robbery. The two then got inside Norwood's automobile and Draper began to provide false directions to his "home." In reality, Draper's directions led Norwood to a secluded area adjacent to the Ivy Hill Cemetery. Once there, Draper reached over the backseat, grabbed Norwood from behind and ordered him "to be quiet and get out of the car." Norwood stopped the vehicle and complied.

Williams and Draper then led Norwood into the cemetery and ordered him to lie facedown near a tombstone. A quick search of Norwood's person revealed $20 hidden in his sock. At this point, Norwood began to plead for his life. The two assailants responded by removing Norwood's clothing and tying him up; Norwood's hands were bound behind his back with his shirt, his legs were bound together with his pants, and his socks were forcefully jammed into his mouth. Once Norwood was bound, Williams said to Draper, "Wait, I'm going to the car. We're getting ready to do something." And he walked off.

Williams returned with a tire iron and a socket wrench, the latter of which he gave to Draper. Draper, seemingly having second thoughts, urged Williams to leave. Williams replied, "I know what I'm doin, I know what I'm doin. Don't worry about it, I know what I'm doin." He then began battering Norwood's head with the tire iron. When he noticed that Draper was frozen in place, Williams said, "Man, you with me[?] We got to do this together." Draper then sprung into action himself, striking Norwood repeatedly with the socket wrench. This violent scene continued until Norwood lay motionless and dead.

Arrest and trial

After the use of Norwood's calling card led police to Rucker, who in turn implicated Williams and Draper. Draper was arrested on July 20, 1984. During questioning, he gave a full confession to the police. A search was conducted of Williams residence, and Norwood's jacket was found. Williams surrendered to the police on July 23, 1984 and although Draper was in protective custody, was able to send several letters urging Draper to change his story. Draper instead turned the letters over to the police.

Williams was convicted of third-degree murder in the death of Hamilton and was sentenced to 27 years, and was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Norwood and sentenced to death.

Petition for commutation

A petition for commutation of his sentence by the Governor of Pennsylvania has been signed by nearly 150 former judges and prosecutors, child and health specialists, and former jurors at his trial. Williams, a victim of sexual abuse during his childhood, killed two of his alleged rapists. At his trials, the rapes were not mentioned. Jurors who signed the petition in September 2012 indicated that if they had been aware of the facts, they would not have requested the death penalty, but life in prison. The widow of Amos Norwood, the second person killed by Williams, also argued for a commutation of the sentence.

On September 13, a bipartisan force, lead by State Senator Daylin Leach, a Montgomery County Democrat, and State Senator Stewart Greenleaf, a Montgomery County Republican, asked Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Corbett, for clemency.


Pennsylvania Justices Back Stay of Murderer’s Execution

By John Hurdle - The New York Times

October 3, 2012

PHILADELPHIA — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Wednesday halted the execution of Terrance Williams, a convicted murderer who had been scheduled to die by lethal injection only a few hours later.

The ruling upheld a stay of execution granted last week by Judge M. Teresa Sarmina of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas on the ground that prosecutors had withheld evidence at Mr. Williams’s 1986 trial that could have led to a lesser penalty.

In a brief statement, the state’s highest court denied an emergency application by the Philadelphia district attorney, R. Seth Williams, to overturn Judge Sarmina’s ruling, which also granted a new sentencing hearing. The defendant remains under sentence of death unless or until the State Supreme Court upholds the ruling for resentencing and a new jury commutes the sentence to life without parole.

The court gave no reason for its decision, which followed defense arguments that the murder victim had sexually abused Mr. Williams for most of his adolescence and that prosecutors had withheld that evidence from the jury.

Mr. Williams had been scheduled to be put to death at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The execution would have been the first in Pennsylvania in 13 years, and the first in the state since 1962 for an inmate who did not choose to die because he had lost all appeals.

Shawn Nolan, a lawyer for Mr. Williams, called for the death sentence to be vacated.

“The Philadelphia district attorney’s office should stop its pursuit to execute Terry Williams,” Mr. Nolan said in a statement. “The time has now come for them to heed the call from the victim’s widow, jurors, child advocates, victim’s rights advocates and over 380,000 people who do not want Terry executed.”

District Attorney Williams said that although the court denied an immediate review of Judge Sarmina’s ruling, the case would now proceed as a normal appeal and the court would have time to examine the facts.

“I continue to believe that this defendant received an appropriate sentence and that his new claims are not true,” Mr. Williams said in a statement.

The inmate, now 46, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1986 for killing Amos Norwood, 56, two years earlier in an attack that prosecutors said at the trial was motivated by robbery.

Defense lawyers argued that the killing was in fact motivated by sexual abuse perpetrated by Mr. Norwood on Mr. Williams starting when he was 13. Those circumstances were unknown to jurors at the time of the trial.

Five jurors have signed affidavits saying that they would have voted instead for life in prison without parole if they had known about the history of abuse, and that they were unaware that in Pennsylvania a life sentence means permanent incarceration.

In a late attempt to spare Mr. Williams’s life, lawyers argued that prosecutors had withheld evidence of sexual abuse. Marc Draper, a co-defendant who is serving a life term for his part in the killing, testified that he had told the police and prosecutors that the attack was caused by rage after years of abuse, but that the officials were interested only in robbery as a motive.


A Plea for Mercy for a Murderer in Pennsylvania

September 15, 2012

On Monday afternoon, before the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons in Harrisburg, lawyers for a man named Terrance Williams will attempt to convince state officials that his life should be spared-- that instead of being executed by lethal injection on October 3rd Williams (shown at left) should instead be permitted to spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. Despite the deadly violence of Williams' crime, despite no questions about his guilt, it's an unusually compelling clemency request-- and because of its timing, in the midst of two local sex abuse scandals, a vivid test of the nature of Pennsylvania's clemency process itself.

Williams' lawyers will make their case to five officials who will then make a recommendation to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, who signed Williams' death warrant on August 8th. The vote of the Board of Pardons must be unanimous in Williams' favor and, even then, under state law, Gov. Corbett is free to disregard it and push on with the execution. It would be the first contested execution in the state in nearly half a century (three executions between now and then occurred when the defendants in the cases all agreed to waive their appeals). And it's clear that the governor will be a tough sell.

This is so despite the fact that the widow of Williams' victim now believes that his sentence should be commuted to life. It is so despite the fact that eight former judges -- federal and state -- now believe his trial was unjust. It is so despite the pleas of 28 former prosecutors -- federal, state and local -- who have gone on the record saying that justice would be served by clemency. It is so despite the fact that five of Williams' trial jurors have come forward and declared, under oath, that they never would have recommended a death sentence for him had they known of material facts his defense attorneys did not introduce at trial.

At its core, clemency is an act of mercy, an official acknowledgment that justice will be best served in a particular instance by the granting of relief to someone who is not, technically speaking, entitled to it. There are many legitimate legal reasons why Williams ought to be given a new trial-- just yesterday a state judge agreed to hear more about the new evidence in the case-- but clemency is not about law. It's about equity. It's about the power of the state to put to right an unjust result. Below are some of the facts that were not introduced at Williams' long-ago murder trial. Judge for yourself whether he deserves to die at the hands of the state.


Terry Williams never really had a chance. From a young age onward, he remembers being beaten by his own mother, who used "belts, fists, extension cords switches or anything that she could get her hands on," according to the clemency petition which is the subject of Monday's hearing. When he was six, the testimony goes, he was sexually assaulted by an older boy in the neighborhood, coming home one day bleeding from his rectum. His mother did nothing in response -- except ultimately beat him some more. In private. In public. In school. At home. It didn't matter.

When Williams was 10 years old, he later told doctors, things got even worse. His mother married a man who beat her, and who was beaten by her, and who also beat Williams. Rage, and submissiveness, were everywhere in the preteen's life. When Williams went to middle school, at the age of 13, he was reportedly raped by one of his teachers, not once but over and over again, the predator plying his prey with all sorts of gifts to lure him in. Predictably, as he got older, and without anything remotely akin to a safety net, Williams fell apart. He drank and abused drugs and mutilated himself, all as a way of crying out.

When he was 16, Williams got in trouble with the law. He committed crimes, some of them serious. When he was sent to a juvenile facility, he says he was raped by two older males-- an event so common in our criminal justice system that it beggars belief (Lovisa Stannow and others have written, bravely, about this topic). No one came to rescue Williams during those awful years. No one came to help him. And as he got older, as the physical and emotional damage inflicted upon him grew, his fear became profound. And that fear turned into anger. He was, you could say, a coiled spring.


The right of the executive to grant clemency, to pardon an individual convicted of a crime or to grant amnesty, is at least a few thousand years old and likely much older. The ancient Egyptians practiced it. So did the ancient Greeks (the word amnesty, for example, comes from the Greek word amnestia, which means "forgetfulness). The Romans, too; Pontius Pilate changed the course of human history by pardoning Barabbas and not Jesus. In Britain, clemency was a feature of royal rule as early as the 14th Century, although for a few hundred years afterward the King had to share that right with the Church.

And all of this history was funneled into the American constitution, the power of pardons being made an express power of the president. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution grants the president the power to "grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in case of impeachment." Because criminal law is typically state law, state executives also have carved out for themselves the power to grant pardons or clemency. This power varies from state to state and the exercise of it has, from time to time, generated challenges that have reach the United States Supreme Court.

The power of clemency is most profound in capital cases, of course, because it can literally mean the difference between life and death. Since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 in Gregg v. Georgia, the Death Penalty Information Center reports that 272 capital prisoners have been granted clemency. Illinois accounts for 187 of these case-- all in the past decade, all because of the institutional flaws in that state's capital punishment scheme. But otherwise capital clemency is rare and, in some states, like Texas now and during the George W. Bush/Alberto Gonzales era, an absolute disgrace.


When he was 17, Terry Williams snapped. On January 26, 1984, when a man named Herbert Hamilton tried to sexually assault him, when the older man plied the teenager with gifts and then tried to rape him, Williams finally fought back. Hamilton stabbed Williams. Williams stabbed back, 20 times the autopsy revealed, until and after Hamilton was dead. Prosecutors portrayed the crime as a homosexual love affair gone wrong. In 1985, a jury convicted Williams of third-degree murder and a judge sentenced him to 10 to 20 years in state prison.

While Williams isn't on death row today because of the Hamilton case that case is instructive in establishing a pattern of behavior on the part of Williams during that period in his life. A few months after Williams murdered Hamilton, a few months after the young man turned 18, he murdered another sexual predator, another one of the reported child rapists into whose realm he had wandered, another man who he says had violently assaulted him, a man named Amos Norwood, leader of the acolytes at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.

Norwood plied Wiliams the same way the others had. The more violent the sexual predator became during his repeated rapes the more money he would give Williams. On June 10, 1984, Norwood took Williams to an unlit parking lot and raped him until he bled. The next day, June 11, 1984, Williams brutally murdered Norwood with a tire iron, the culmination of an attack Williams' doctor later attributed to his years of abuse. This time, following a brief 1986 trial, a jury convicted Williams of first-degree murder. This time, he was sentenced to death.


Clemency has never been a static concept. Over the years, over the centuries, it has evolved, or devolved, depending upon the prevailing political and moral winds. It's never been easy for convicted prisoners to get a break from the head of state but it's never been designed to be. The critics who say that clemency is arbitrary and capricious are both absolutely correct and missing the point. The best people like Williams' can hope for, when they throw themselves on the mercy of the politicians and bureaucrats, is an honest review of the evidence and a level of compassion that isn't supposed to surface anywhere else in the justice system.

Pennsylvania has tinkered with its clemency processes. The latest big shift occurred in 1997 when voters amended the state constitution to require the vote of the Board of Pardons to be unanimous in cases involving clemency requests for prisoners sentenced to death or life in prison. Prior to 1997, the rule required a simple majority and, after a series of  commuted prisoners committed violent crimes, the unanimity requirement was added. It makes it that much more difficult for prisoners like Williams to get the recommendation they need from the Board -- and that much easier for a sitting governor to avoid having to make the call.

In their petition, Williams attorneys cite five recent examples -- from Ohio, Delaware, Tennessee and Oklahoma -- where governors have granted a measure of clemency in capital cases where the defendant had brutally murdered a victim after being physically abused as a child or young adult. A trend? Maybe yes and maybe no. What these other governors did is not binding on Gov. Corbett. But none of those other cases contained the breadth or depth of pleas for clemency seen in the Williams' case. So far, as far as I can tell, no one has stood up in the clemency process and proclaimed that Williams still deserves to die.


Williams' guilt was never in doubt. But his trial was nevertheless wracked by misfeasance and malfeasance. By failing to introduce at the penalty phase of Williams' trial all the obvious mitigating evidence above, by failing even to adequately investigate the matter, Williams' trial attorneys gave him "ineffective assistance" of counsel. And, by cutting a deal with Williams' friend, a young man named Marc Draper who took part in the Norwood murder, prosecutors enabled the lies Draper would tell at trial. The lies, incidentally, that he has now renounced (and which are now the subject of next Thursday's court hearing).

At trial, and afterward, prosecutors portrayed Williams as a serial criminal who transposed his violent crimes with the appearance of being a well-adjusted teenager. Prosecutors cited the reports of doctors who purportedly "examined" Williams in 1983 and 1984, in the months before he committed the Norwood murder. None of those doctors spent any significant time reviewing Williams' record or interviewing Williams himself, however, and earlier this year, one of them recanted his original diagnosis, confessing that he and his colleagues routinely rushed through such examinations to minimize the "backlog" of pending cases.

And what have the state and federal courts said about such shoddy work? The recanting witnesses. The negligent representation. The faulty medical evaluations. For the most part, the judges who have reviewed this case agree that Terrance Williams did not get a fair trial. But so far they also have agreed that it wouldn't have mattered even if he had. The standard for a new trial in these circumstances is that new evidence would have altered the outcome of the trial -- that the jury would have reached a different conclusion had it known the true facts. This is the institutional injustice of modern capital litigation. Will Pennsylvania make it right?


Whether or not she knew at that time what her husband was, Norwood's widow now wants no further killing. She argues that Williams is "worthy of forgiveness" and has signed onto the defense request for clemency. It is unclear how state lawyers have reacted to Mamie Norwood's request (the state's response to a clemency request is not provided to defense attorneys). But whatever else it does, it undercuts the traditional argument offered by prosecutors when they seek to justify the results of an unfair capital trial -- that the state is there to protect the rights and interests of the family members of the victim.

Nor can the state plausibly argue today that evidence of the abuse Williams suffered wouldn't have made a difference to the jury. Five jurors have come forward to say that the errors made by the defense very definitively would have made a difference. And no fewer than three jurors even said they would have voted for life imprisonment had they known it meant without the possibility of parole. Pennsylvania evidently is the last state which does not require trial judges to tell jurors the truth about the lack of parole for capital life sentences. Respecting the jury's work is another traditional argument against clemency. Here, it cuts the other way.

Another argument prosecutors ceaselessly pitch is the one about retributive justice -- that society has an interest in ensuring that criminals get what they deserve. But what, exactly, does Terrance Williams deserve after suffering for all those years before taking Hamilton and Norwood off the streets? This July, Gov. Corbett praised investigators in the Sandusky case "who have worked very hard to get the result -- that justice was served and a monster was taken off the street." With the stroke of a pen, Pennsylvania's governor can do what no one before has ever really done for Williams -- show him some tender mercy.


The Board of Pardons is a political institution, not a legal one. It is made up of the Attorney General Linda Kelly, who is the state's highest law enforcement officer, Lt. Governor Jim Cawley, who isn't likely to buck his boss, a "corrections expert," a "victim representative" and a psychologist. These folks, and perhaps Gov. Corbett, will have to confront this particular case at a particularly sensitive time in the state's history, a moment when two of the most cherished institutions around -- the Catholic Church and Penn State University -- are themselves struggling to cope with sexual abuse allegations, new and old.

The Williams' case comes across Gov. Corbett's desk right in the middle of Pennsylvania's torturous acknowledgment of the deeds of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State coach convicted of child rape in June. There is no escaping the links between the two stories. The outpouring of sympathy and grief for Sandusky's many victims, including public comments from Gov. Corbett and Attorney General Kelly, surely animates some of the support Williams recently has received. And it surely raises the question, pondered aloud by the governor, of how difficult it is for these poor victims to step forward from the darkness.

The Williams' clemency also comes just a few months after Monsignor William J. Lynn, of Pennsylvania, was found guilty of child endangerment for shielding predatory priests from the law. The Catholic Church, short on irony and long opposed to capital punishment, has been a vocal supporter of Terrance Williams' cause. So have law professors and the medical community. Whether all of this support will be enough is a question now in the hands of five Pennsylvanians who must speak for the rest of the state. What's the point of clemency itself if not for people like Terrance Williams? Maybe they'll answer that question, too.


Terrance Williams


Terrance Williams



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