Terrance Williams was a convicted murderer sentenced
to death in Pennsylvania on July 1, 1987, for a murder committed at age
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
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.
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
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
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
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
AN HORRIFIC LIFE
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.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
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
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 IN ACTION
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.
TRIAL AND ERROR
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?
THE PLEA FOR MERCY
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
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 POLITICS OF THE MATTER
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.