Ten days -- that’s how much time Terrance “Terry” Williams has left before his Oct. 3 execution by lethal injection and Monday may be the most important of those days.
Monday will be the final day of testimony on a motion for an emergency stay of execution before Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina. And Williams’ fate arguably rests in the ability of his admitted accomplice in the June, 11, 1984 murder of Amos Norwood to convince Sarmina that Williams killed in a rage over sexual abuse by Norwood and not in the robbery that convinced a jury to sentence him to death.
Williams’ team of lawyers have argued that Williams’ immaturity at the time of the Norwood killing – just three months past 18, the minimum age for execution in the United States – and the alleged suppression of a history of sexual abuse by Norwood and others -- would have convinced the jury to sentence him to life in prison instead of death.
Williams’ admitted accomplice, Marc Draper, like Williams an 18-year-old Cheyney University freshman at the time of the Norwood murder, testified for about an hour on Thursday afternoon. Draper, serving life in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in Norwood’s killing, told Sarmina his rebirth as a Christian had led him to recant his 26-year-old trial testimony against Williams.
“All I want to do is tell the truth,” Draper, 46, told the judge.
Draper returns to the witness stand Monday under continued questioning by Billy Nolas, one of a team of lawyers representing Williams in the appeal, followed by a much tougher cross examination by prosecutors from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.
Williams’ lawyers and advocates have come up with an impressive list of people supporting commuting his sentence to life in prison without parole, none so emotionally compelling as Norwood’s 75-year-old widow, Mamie Norwood, who said her own religious beliefs have helped her forgive Williams and plead for his life. Five of the jurors who condemned Williams have also come forward supporting clemency, saying they would not have had the same verdict if they knew about the alleged sexual abuse and that a life sentence in Pennsylvania means life, not parole in 20 or 30 years.
Prosecutors, of course, have not been rolling over. They have presented support by the victim's daughter, Barbara C. Norwood-Harris, now 51, supporting execution.
Preceding Draper on the witness stand last Thursday was Andrea Foulkes, who as assistant district attorney prosecuted Williams and obtained the death penalty in the Norwood case.
Foulkes, now a federal prosecutor, called Draper a liar and said he never told her that Norwood had sexually molested Williams before the trial. Deputy District Attorney Ronald Eisenberg, in a series of court filings, has argued that Williams himself could have made the claim of sexual abuse at trial but chose to testify that he wasn’t there and that Norwood was killed by Draper and another man.
As for Williams’ claims of sexual abuse by other men, Eisenberg said Williams’ lawyers began raising them in 1998 only to have them rejected by every appeals court.
Nor have prosecutors ignored the public forum. In an op-ed column in Sunday’s Inquirer, District Attorney Seth Williams called Terrance Williams “a brutal, two-time murderer whose case has been reviewed and upheld by every available court [who] should finally be subject to the sentence of death he received from a jury more than 25 years ago.”
And in a letter published in the Daily News on Wednesday, former Philadelphia prosecutor Joseph E. McGettigan, who this year won the child sex-abuse conviction against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, criticized Williams’ lawyers for comparing Williams conduct with the victims who testified against Sandusky.
“The alleged victimization of the murderous Mr. Williams is an assertion, clearly self-serving, and made only years after Williams bludgeoned one of his victims to death, set him on fire, stole the victim's money and went to Atlantic City to gamble with the proceeds of his crimes,” McGettigan wrote.
Norwood, 56, a volunteer at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Germantown, was found in the Ivy Hill Cemetery, his body charred beyond recognition and skull shattered by a tire iron.
The use of some of Norwood’s stolen credit cards eventually led police to Draper who implicated Williams and agreed to testify at two murder trial at which Williams was the accused killer.
It’s not known if Judge Sarmina will decide Williams’ motion for a stay of execution on Monday or will hold it under advisement. What is certain is that, regardless of her decision, the fate of Terry Williams will be appealed.