The wait continues

Terrance Williams awoke today in the same cell he has for years, on the “death row” at the state prison at Greene, about 15 miles from the West Virginia border in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Where he ends his day remains an open question.

At some point today Williams, 46, could be taken from his cell in shackles and, under an escort of state prison officers and state troopers, begin the 200-mile, four-hour drive to the state prison at Rockview in Bellefonte to prepare for an injection of lethal chemicals.

Williams’ death warrant for the June 11, 1984 murder of Germantown churchman Amos Norwood expires at midnight and right now it has been blocked by last Friday’s ruling by Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina. Sarmina ruled that evidence of Norwood’s sexual predation on teenage boys – including Williams – was withheld from the defense in his 1986 trial, making it more likely for the jury to sentence Williams to death.

But Sarmina’s stay is under appeal to the state Supreme Court by the city District Attorney’s office and by noon today, both sides had traded a flurry of motions trying to convince the high court of their positions.

Susan McNaughton, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said the department is prepared to carry out Williams’ execution before the death warrant expires at midnight – if the Supreme Court gives its approval.

For security purposes, McNaughton said, she was not permitted to discuss when and how Williams might be moved from Greene to Rockview, or even how much lead time prison officials would need.

“Let’s just say we’re monitoring the situation in court very closely,” McNaughton added.

If Williams’ execution occurs, it would be the first in Pennsylvania since 1999 and the first contested execution since 1962.

If the death warrant expires at midnight, Gov. Corbett is required to sign a new warrant within 30 days from when Sarmina’s stay is lifted. A new execution date would then have to set within 60 days of the signing of the new warrant.

Also watching the courts is the state’s five-member Board of Pardons, which had two hearings over the last two weeks on Williams’ plea to have his death sentence commuted to life in prison without chance of parole. The pardons board must be unanimous to pass on a nonbinding recommendation of clemency to the governor.