The majority vote wasn't enough to spare Terrance Williams from his pending execution. Now, his life depends upon a last-ditch court effort in court Thursday (September 20).
The Pennsylvania Board of Pardons on Monday voted 3-2 to grant clemency to the convicted murderer who was allegedly sexually abused by his victim over several years. But the application to commute the sentence to a life term, backed by thousands of supporters, was denied because Pennsylvania requires a unanimous vote in cases involving the death sentence or life in prison.
The 46-year old Williams is scheduled to die by lethal injection on October 3, 26 years after he was convicted of robbery, conspiracy and first-degree murder in the death of Amos Norwood.
It would be just the third execution in Pennsylvania since the state reinstated its death penalty in 1978, the New York Times reported Saturday.
Williams' supporters say the killing wasn't motivated by the robbery, as presented by prosecutors, but by a long history of sexual abuse by Norwood and others.
“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,” more than two dozen sexual abuse experts and child advocates wrote earlier this month in a letter to Governor Tom Corbett. Corbett has signed Williams' death warrant but could still stay the execution.
The Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment, a bipartisan group of lawmakers studying the effectiveness of the state's death penalty, is among those calling for a stay. The group, established by a 2011 law, says an execution would “greatly undermine” the legislative intent of the study.
Jurors were unaware that Williams was allegedly abused, the Times reported, citing affidavits signed by five jurors who said they would have changed their votes to life in prison without parole had they known that history. Williams' attorney says his co-defendant was unaware of the abuse and testified the robbery was the lone motive in a deal that granted him early parole.
"When you look at a victim sexually abused since he was five years old, I don't see how you can deny him mercy," Shawn Nolan, Williams' public defender, told the board, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
State prosecutors reject the argument, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, noting it has been dismissed by other courts. Tom Dolgenos, with the Philadelphia district attorney's office, told the Pardons Board that Williams has lied about his history.
Williams' life now hinges on a hearing Thursday in the Court of Common Pleas, where his attorneys will present new evidence.
“We are confident that a thorough review of the facts will make it clear that the jurors in this case did not have accurate and complete information about the crime or Terry Williams,” said Nolan in a statement Monday.