unless the state's board of pardons prevents it, pennsylvania will execute terrance "terry" williams, 46, by lethal injection. williams is on death row for the 1984 murder of amos norwood, who sexually abused wlliams as a child. months earlier, williams had killed another man who also raped him. governor tom corbett set an execution date of october 3, which would make williams the first person put to death in the state in 13 years.
prosecutors characterized williams as a serial killer, but the jurors never heard evidence of the years of horrific abuse he suffered from older men. child advocates, judges, prosecutors, the jurors who found him guilty & the victim's wife say he should not die. additionally, over 345,000 people have signed a petition on colorofchange.org to grant him clemency. a similar viral show of support for a death row inmate was given to troy davis a year ago.
terry williams' case has exposed the inherent flaws in the precarious administration of the death penalty, while acting as a catalyst in the push for a death penalty moratorium in the keystone state. williams could become the first non-volunteer execution since 1978. all three of those who were executed since the u.s. supreme court reinstated the death penalty waived their remaining appeals.
barely 18, williams killed norwood, 56, with a tire iron, set him on fire & left him in a cemetery. at age 17, he killed herbert hamilton, 50, by cutting his throat with a knife, for which he received 27 years. but the jury in his capital murder case didn't know norwood, a church leader, sexually abused him from the age of 13 & raped him until he bled the previous night. also, williams endured poor legal representation. his new attorneys argue prosecutors knew about the abuse, but told williams' co-defendant, marc draper, to testify robbery was the motive for the killing.
sadly, williams' life began in tragedy. he was brutally beaten by his mother & alcoholic stepfather with belts, extension cords, fists & switches. at age 6, he was raped by an older boy in the neighborhood. in middle school a teacher repeatedly raped him. when a robbery landed him in juvenile detention, he was gang raped by two older boys. as a teenager, williams was sexually exploited by older men - in exchange for clothes, food, money & other gifts.
although williams suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the ongoing violence he experienced, he received no mental health treatment or counseling. williams used alcohol & other drugs to self-medicate, as well as self-mutilation & suicide attempts to deal with his pain. eventually, he fatally attacked two of his abusers.
five of the jurors who sentenced williams say they were unaware of his long history of sexual abuse. they said this information would have influenced their decision. furthermore, a number of jurors say they want a life sentence for williams, rather than death. moreover, the jurors were not instructed life sentences means life without parole. pennsylvania is the only state where such an instruction is not required.
"the reason that i opted for the death sentence was because i was under the impression that if we sentenced terry williams to life in prison then he could get out on parole," said one of the jurors. "if i had known that a life sentence meant life without parole, i personally would have voted for a life sentence & i think other people probably would have voted for life too," the juror said. mamie norwood, the widow of amos norwood, says the execution goes against her christian beliefs & she has forgiven williams.
meanwhile, dozens of child advocates, former judges & prosecutors, law professors, mental health professionals & religious leaders, including the archbishop of philadelphia, have publicly demanded a commutation of terry williams' impending death sentence. they join a host of human rights organizations & the european union in calling for williams' clemency.
the williams case is front & center in the national consciousness, primarily due to two recent high-profile sex abuse scandals in pennsylvania. jerry sandusky, a former assistant coach at penn state university, was convicted of sexually abusing young boys. a scathing report from former fbi director louis frech found university officials failed to intervene & protect children.
ironically, the archbishop of philadelphia - despite his support of williams - is under fire for providing cover to men of the cloth who abuse kids. monsignor william j. lynn, former secretary clergy for the archdiocese of philadelphia, was recently found guilty of endangering children & protecting predatory priests from the law. lynn was sentenced three to six years.
with 216 people condemned to death, pennsylvania has the fourth largest death row population in america, behind california, florida & texas. alabama is in fifth place. according to the death penalty information center, 61% of death row inmates in the keystone state are african-american, 30% are white & eight percent are latinjo. yet, the 2010 census states blacks are only 11% of the state's total population. also, six pennsylvania inmates have been released from death row due to evidence of innocence, of the 140 such inmates across the nation.
a study commissioned by the pennsylvania supreme court found pay for court-appointed criminal defense lawyers in philadelphia is "grossly inadequate" & "unacceptably increases the risk of ineffective assistance of counsel in individual cases & is primarily responsible for the first judicial district's growing inability to attract a sufficient number of qualified attorneys willing to accept court appointments in capital cases."
marc bookman of the atlantic center for capital representation wrote, "court appointed lawyers in philadelphia rarely visit their clients much, seldom file motions on their behalf & never use a jury questionnaire." he also said, "this is not a technical issue...death sentence after death sentence has been reversed based on the quality of legal defense in philadelphia."
in light of these problems & the scheduled execution date, a bipartisan state senate commission wrote a letter to governor corbett calling for a postponement of all executions until it completes its study on the effectiveness of the death penalty. the commission will release its findings, which will discuss the cost, fairness, impact & proportionality of the death penalty, in 2013.
- mark j. tuggle
- harlem, usa
- same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. firstname.lastname@example.org.