A Pennsylvania inmate on death row was sexually abused by the men he was convicted of murdering, according to a clemency petition filed yesterday.
The petition, supported by 22 former prosecutors and judges, 34 law professors, 40 mental health professionals and more than 36 religious leaders, makes an impassioned case for sparing from execution a man with an extensive childhood history of abuse that was never revealed to the jury:
Pennsylvania is preparing to execute Terrance “Terry” Williams for the 1986 capital murder of Amos Norwood. At the time of the killing, Terry was only three and a half months past his eighteenth birthday, the minimum age for the imposition of the death penalty. On that tragic day, Terry and another 18-year-old, Marc Draper, beat Mr. Norwood to death in a cemetery in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.
At trial, the jury was informed that Terry had prior convictions for a 1982 armed robbery and the 1984 killing of Herbert Hamilton, which Terry committed at ages 16 and 17, respectively. The jury never learned, however, that both Herbert Hamilton and Amos Norwood had sexually abused Terry, or that both killings directly related to Terry’s history of sexual abuse by these and older males, which began when Terry was only six years old. In fact, jurors heard very little about Terry’s childhood, which was marked not only by over a decade of sexual abuse, but by years of physical and emotional abuse, neglect and abandonment by those who were supposed to love and care for him. The unrelenting abuse and neglect made Terry an easy target for sexual predators. […]
Five of the jurors from Terry’s capital trial agree that Terry’s life should be spared. In recent sworn statements, they have explained that if they had known the truth about Terry’s childhood, the fact that he was exploited and sexually assaulted by the men he killed, as well as the fact that a life sentence meant life without parole, they never would have sentenced Terry to death.
The allegations of abuse were strongly supported by a letter from 26 child advocates and sexual abuse experts, which stated: “The evidence of abuse in this case is clear.” Even Mr. Norwood’s widow submitted a letter asking that his life be spared.
If the execution takes place, it would be the first in 13 years, and only the fourth since Pennsylvania reenacted the death penalty in 1978.
For Williams to be granted clemency, the petition must be reviewed by the Board of Pardons, which must unanimously recommend that Gov. Tom Corbett grant clemency, though the recommendation is not binding on the governor.
The board has scheduled a public hearing on the petition for Sept. 17, and Change.org is circulating a petition.