PHILADELPHIA — A Philadelphia judge halted next week’s scheduled execution of death row inmate Terrance “Terry” Williams and granted him a new sentencing hearing after reviewing evidence that the man he killed might have sexually abused him.
Judge M. Teresa Sarmina said Friday that prosecutors suppressed evidence that Williams’ victim was a pedophile who abused boys, including Williams. However, Sarmina upheld Williams’ first-degree murder conviction.
Williams is on death row for killing two men, a church deacon and a high school sports booster, as a teenager.
Williams’ lawyers have maintained that police and prosecutors withheld evidence about the sexual link between him and victim Amos Norwood, so the jury never heard about it before voting for a death sentence.
Philadelphia prosecutors have denied any wrongdoing in the 1986 trial.
Williams had been scheduled to be executed by lethal injection Wednesday. He would become the first Pennsylvania inmate executed since 1962 who had not given up his appeals.
Lawyers with the Federal Community Defenders Office in Philadelphia said the sex-abuse evidence might have steered the jury toward a life sentence, if not a different verdict on guilt.
Philadelphia prosecutors deny any wrongdoing in Williams’ 1986 trial. And current District Attorney Seth Williams has called him “a brutal, two-time murderer.”
There was no immediate comment from prosecutors after Sarmina’s decision though it’s likely to be appealed to the state supreme court.
Williams, a high school quarterback-turned-college student, now admits he was having sex with older men in exchange for money and gifts. He said he had been molested by Norwood since he was 13.
Both accomplice Marc Draper, a policeman’s son, and the trial prosecutor, Andrea Foulkes, gave new testimony before Sarmina in recent days. Draper said that he was promised a chance at parole if he told jurors the Norwood slaying was a robbery, not a sex-related crime.
He testified accordingly, but is serving a life term for felony murder. He said he did not understand that lifers in Pennsylvania are never eligible for parole.
Several Norwood jurors said they also misunderstood that when they sentenced Williams to death. Five jurors now support his bid for clemency, as does Norwood’s widow.
Foulkes denied promising Draper a shorter sentence, or withholding evidence from jurors or the defense.
Now a federal prosecutor, she worked at the time under then-Philadelphia District Attorney Ronald Castille. Castille, who signed off on Williams’ death penalty case, now serves as chief justice of the state Supreme Court, which may ultimately decide Williams’ fate.
— Associated Press