Child Advocates, Former Prosecutors, and Victim’s Widow Urge Clemency for Survivor of Child Sexual Abuse

In Pennsylvania--a state that has recently dealt with high-profile cases of child sexual abuse--one victim of such attacks is now facing execution.  On September 6, more than two dozen child advocates joined former jurors, the victim’s widow, as well as former prosecutors and judges in urging Governor Tom Corbett and the Board of Pardons to grant clemency to death row inmate Terrance Williams (pictured).  Williams suffered years of physical and sexual abuse from older males, and he eventually killed two of his abusers while in his teens. In a letter sent to Gov. Corbett, child advocates noted, “The evidence of abuse in this case is clear. There can be no doubt that Terry was repeatedly and violently abused and exploited as a child and teenager by manipulative older men. Terry’s acts of violence have, alas, an explanation of the worst sort: enveloped by anger and self-hatred, Terry lashed out and killed two of the men who sexually abused him and caused him so much pain.” In addition to child advocates and jurors, the victim’s widow supports clemency for Williams, who is deeply remorseful about his crimes. Mamie Norwood, the wife of Amos Norwood whom Williams kiiled, asked that he be spared, “I have come to forgive Mr. Williams. It has taken me many years. I want his life spared and I do not want him executed. I am at peace with my decision and I hope and pray that my wishes are respected.”

Pennsylvania Readies First Non-Volunteer Execution Since 1978; Defendant Killed Sexual Abusers

On August 8, Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania signed an execution warrant for Terrance Williams for the 1984 murder of Amos Norwood.  The execution was set for October 3.  Although Gov. Corbett has signed 15 previous death warrants, all of those dates have been stayed because the defendant had not completed the ordinary appeals process.  Williams' death sentence and conviction, however, were affirmed by the federal Court of Appeals and his case was denied review by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Nevertheless, Williams' case remains controversial and his attorneys have filed additional petitions in state court.  His attorneys issued a statement in response to the death warrant, noting that Williams had been sexually and physically abused as a child and that he would be executed for killing two of those abusers.  “Most Pennsylvanians would agree that the death penalty is the punishment for the worst of the worst offenders, not for traumatized victims of sexual abuse who strike back at their abusers. Terry Williams’ story is one of horrific childhood sexual and physical abuse," said Shawn Nolan, one of Williams' attorneys.  Williams has expressed deep remorse for the murders.  Unfortunately, the jury at Williams' trial, “didn’t hear about his abusive childhood or that the two men he killed were two of his abusers. Also, jurors mistakenly believed that if they sentenced Terry to life in prison he would be eligible for parole. Several jurors now say they would have voted for life in prison without the possibility of parole instead of death if they had known this important information," according to the statement from the attorneys. 

Systemic Flaws in Capital Representation Cited for Recent Pennsylvania Death Sentence

Following the recent handing down of a death sentence in Philadelphia, the Executive Director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation blamed the outcome on an inadequate indigent-defense system.  Marc Bookman (pictured), writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, reviewed the case and found, "There isn't a single motion filed by the attorneys in defense of their client. Nor is there a request for a jury questionnaire, which is standard in most jurisdictions that regularly handle capital cases, or for a mitigation specialist to prepare a case against the death penalty. Indeed, the only motion in the record was handwritten by the defendant. Prison logs indicate that his lawyers visited him a total of three times."  Bookman said that such ineffective representation is the norm in Philadelphia capital cases because of "grossly inadequate" pay for court-appointed lawyers.  "In other words," he wrote, "if we're asking attorneys to work for next to nothing, we are likely to get next to nothing from them." Read the full op-ed below.

SUPREME COURT: Conviction of Pennsylvania Death Row Inmate Restored

On February 21 the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a U.S. Court of Appeals decision granting a retrial to James Lambert, who had been convicted and sentenced to death in 1984 in Pennsylvania. Lambert appealed his conviction, claiming that prosecutors never disclosed evidence identifying an additional co-defendant, in violation of Brady v. Maryland. Lambert claimed this new evidence would have impeached the testimony that led to his conviction. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in favor of Lambert, ordering him to be released or retried in four months. The Supreme Court held that “the various notations and statements which [Lambert] claims the commonwealth should have disclosed are en­tirely ambiguous.” The Court also noted, “Any retrial here would take place three decades after the crime, posing the most daunting difficulties for the prose­cution.... That burden should not be imposed unless each ground supporting the state court's decision had been examined and found to be unreasonable under AEDPA [the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act].” The dissent, written by Justice Stephen Breyer and joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan, said the nota­tion about the co-defendant was not ambiguous, and noted, “if the Commonwealth was wrong, an innocent man has spent almost 30 years in prison under sentence of death for a crime he did not commit." Read full opinion here.

REPRESENTATION: Pennsylvania Supreme Court Study Finds Death Penalty Compensation "Grossly Inadequate"

A study ordered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has found pay for court-appointed defense lawyers in death penalty cases in Philadelphia to be "grossly inadequate." The study, which was authored by Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner, was initiated after defense lawyers petitioned the Court to increase the fees or halt death-penalty cases. The study noted there are fewer than 30 lawyers in Philadelphia willing to take capital-case appointments for indigent clients who meet the state qualifications. Philadelphia pays defense lawyers less than any other county in the state, giving lead counsel a flat fee of $2,000 to prepare a capital case, including the first half-day of trial. For the rest of a trial, a lawyer gets $200 for half days and $400 for full days.  Judge Lerner said "The existing compensation system unacceptably increases the risk of ineffective assistance of counsel in individual cases and 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." The study also noted that the lack of willing, qualified attorneys led to waits "that in too many cases, [have] delayed justice to the threshold of denial." The report recommended that Philadelphia spend an additional $340,000 on capital-case attorneys, on top of the $200,000 spent in 2010. 

NEW RESOURCES: Latest DEATH ROW USA Report Now Available

The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's Death Row USA shows a decrease of 31 inmates between January 1 and July 1, 2011.  Over the last decade, the total population of state and federal death rows has decreased significantly, from 3,682 inmates in 2000 to 3,220 inmates in 2011.  The percentage of Latino inmates facing execution, however, has steadily increased over the years.  In 1991, Latinos made up 6% of the nation's death row.  In 2011, Latinos or Latinas comprised 12% of death row inmates.  The states with the largest number of Hispanic death row inmates are California (167), Texas (95) and Florida (37).  The report also contains information on the race and gender of the victims in the underlying murders for those executed.  In cases where an execution has occurred since 1976, 77% of the victims in the underlying murders were white, even though generally whites constitute slightly less than 50% of all murders.

RESOURCES: Recent Legislative Acitivity on the Death Penalty

DPIC is collecting information on pending legislation related to the death penalty.  For example, at least nine states will consider bills to repeal the death penalty in 2012.  In California, a coalition called Taxpayers for Justice has been collecting signatures to place a death penalty repeal initiative on the ballot in November.  On January 25, the Washington Senate Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on a bill to repeal the death penalty. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Debbie Regala, cited high costs as a reason for the bill: “We can keep the public safe with putting people in prison for the rest of their life, as opposed to the costly expense of executing them… It's always important and valuable for us to look at public policy and see if it's actually getting us the results that we want. When you're facing an economic crisis, you add an extra lens." Other states considering repeal bills are Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania. A few states, such as New Hampshire, have blls to expand the death penalty.

Pennsylvania Senate Initiates Study of State's Death Penalty

The Pennsylvania Senate recently passed a resolution that will result in a study of the state’s death penalty and look at issues of fairness, equality and costs of a punishment that is rarely carried out in the state. The resolution was sponsored by Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, a Republican, who said, “Questions are frequently raised regarding the costs, deterrent effect and appropriateness of capital punishment. I believe that we need to answer these questions." Since Pennsylvania reinstated the death penalty in 1978, only three people have been executed, all of whom waived their rights to appeal their sentences. The last execution in the state was held 13 years ago.  Over 200 remain on death row.  David Rose, a retired corrections officer, said he has observed inequalities within the system that prevent defendants from receiving fair trials. Rose said, "When you work in corrections, you realize the guiltiest people aren't the ones on death row.” The study committee, which will be composed of four senators and a team of advisers, has not been formed yet. It can take two years to complete its work.