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.

For an earlier offense committed when he was seventeen years old, Williams was convicted of the murder of a different abuser, Herb Hamilton. Williams was barely eighteen at the time of the murder of Amos Norwood. Marc Draper, the co-defendant in the Norwood murder, was the son of a Philadelphia policeman. He pled guilty to second-degree murder and received a life sentence in exchange for his testimony against Williams.

Pennsylvania has not carried out an execution since 1999. All three of the executions carried out since the reinstatement of the death penalty have been of inmates who waived remaining appeals.

(“Governor Corbett Signs Execution Warrant for Philadelphia Killer, Office of the Governor,” PR Newswire, Aug. 9, 2012; Statement from Attorneys for Terrance Williams in Response to the Setting of an Execution Date, Aug. 9, 2012). See Arbitrariness and Representation.