Sunday, March 29, 2015

Judge's stay should end Williams' death sentence

The historic ruling Friday by a Philadelphia judge to stay the execution of condemned killer Terrance Williams has given Pennsylvania yet another compelling reason to vacate Williams’ death sentence once and for all.

Judge's stay should end Williams' death sentence

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams (left) has appealed the stay of Terrance Williams´ execution. (MATT ROURKE / Associated Press)
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams (left) has appealed the stay of Terrance Williams' execution. (MATT ROURKE / Associated Press) MATT ROURKE / Associated Press

The historic ruling Friday by a Philadelphia judge to stay the execution of condemned killer Terrance Williams has given Pennsylvania yet another compelling reason to vacate Williams’ death sentence once and for all.

With the clock still ticking, the courts and Gov. Corbett have an opportunity to correct a horrific wrong by sparing Williams’ life and commuting his punishment to life in prison, a more appropriate sentence.

Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina made the right ruling in staying the execution scheduled for Wednesday. At the same time, she upheld the guilty verdict for the murder.

Sarmina found that prosecutors withheld crucial evidence that might have convinced a jury in Williams’ 1986 trial to sentence him to life for the killing of a city man, Amos Norwood.

Her findings are stunning in a case that could be a textbook example of the flaws in a capital punishment system already proven to be fallible, a system that puts minority and poor defendants at a greater risk of the death penalty.

District Attorney Seth Williams has appealed the stay. But even if the state Supreme Court decides to hear the case, there’s no urgency that it act before the expiration of the death warrant Corbett signed for the Oct. 3 execution.

Better yet, Corbett and the courts should end this miscarriage of justice and halt an execution that would be the first in 50 years for a defendant who has not of his own will given up on further appeals.

The governor should leave Williams to spend the rest of his life in prison without a chance of parole. And Pennsylvania should scrap the death penalty entirely.

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