New sentencing hearing ordered for Terrance Williams
The death penalty is a punishment reserved for the most brutal criminals who have committed heinous acts against society.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has not executed a convicted murderer since the execution of Gary Heidnik in 1999, and was set to administer the lethal injection to Terrance Williams on Oct. 3. But on Friday, Court of Common Pleas Judge Teresa Sarmina overturned Williams’ death penalty and ordered a new sentencing for the murder of Amos Norwood. Sarmina upheld Williams’ first-degree murder conviction, and ordered a new sentencing hearing for the defendant.
Williams beat Norwood to death in 1984, ostensibly during a robbery. But Williams’ defense team successfully argued that the real reason Williams killed Norwood was not revealed during his trial. Allegedly, Norwood had sexually abused Williams since his early teens and the defendant’s long-suppressed rage motivated the savage beating with a tire iron.
“None of this was brought out during the trial. The prosecution presented nothing about it,” said Shawn Nolan, assistant chief of the Capital Habeas Corpus Unit, Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. “We are extremely pleased that Judge Sarmina, after carefully considering all of the evidence in this case, has vacated the death sentence based on misconduct by the prosecution. The District Attorney’s very own files were replete with evidence from as early as 1984 of predatory, exploitive and abusive acts by Herbert Hamilton and Amos Norwood against Terry Williams and other teenage boys. Judge Sarmina found that the trial prosecutor engaged in misconduct. She found that the prosecutor 'played games and took unfair measures to win.' She also noted that the prosecutor violated her ethical duty for failing to turn over evidence in the files in the possession of the Commonwealth.”
District Attorney Seth Williams said his office would file an immediate appeal to have Sarmina’s ruling overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
“The judge accuses police and prosecutors of suppressing evidence that the victim, 56-year-old Mr. Amos Norwood, may have had homosexual proclivities,” Williams said. “That alleged evidence, says the defendant, could have supported his claim that he himself was abused by Mr. Norwood, and that Norwood was therefore an unsympathetic victim. But how in the world could the prosecutor have ‘suppressed’ information that was in the defendant’s own head? In her entire 45-minute ruling, the judge never once mentioned that Terrance Williams himself has never testified that he was abused. In fact, at his trial he took the stand and swore under oath that Mr. Norwood and he were total strangers, and that he had nothing to do with the murder.”
The case against Williams started on June 11, 1984 when Amos Norwood was murdered. According to investigators, Williams and Marc Draper were gambling on a street corner and lost their money. Williams left the corner but later returned with $10.00 that he got from Norwood. Later Norwood drove by and Williams and Draper went with him, with the intention of taking his money. They drove to a cemetery where they forced Norwood out, bound and gagged him, robbed him and then beat him to death with a tire iron and a wrench and then fled. Later on, Williams returned and burned the body, something he attempted to do in the murder of Herbert Hamilton. Williams and Draper were arrested two months later. Draper made a deal with the prosecutors and pleaded guilty to second degree murder and criminal conspiracy. Williams was found guilty of first degree murder, robbery and conspiracy on Feb. 3, 1986.
During the investigation two earlier, extremely violent crimes were brought to light and were used by the prosecutor, Andrea Foulkes, during Williams’ trial. Judge D. Brooks Smith heard arguments from Williams’ last appeal and upheld the death sentence. Judge Smith wrote that although Williams graduated from Germantown High, was an award winning athlete and a student at Cheyney University, he committed several other crimes and was functioning as a male prostitute, an aspect of his life he kept hidden. In January 1984, Williams allegedly murdered Hamilton by beating him with a baseball bat and then stabbing him over twenty times with a butcher knife.
“The reason why no one heard any testimony 28 years about the defendant being raped by my father was because it never happened,” said Barbara Norwood Harris, daughter of Amos Norwood. “My father's body was burned beyond recognition. The defendants poured gasoline over his body and burned him until he was unrecognizable, the intention being to disguise his body so they would not be arrested for murder. This [Williams] is not the face of a martyr, but a cold-bloodied killer who killed another man prior to killing my father. Hamilton and Norwood did not know each other. Even if those falsehoods or lies were true, what gives the defendant the right to torment, assault, rob, terrorize and burn my father beyond recognition?”