Stu Bykofsky: State has dirty hands in Terrance Williams case

A photo of Terrance Williams is attached. It was taken by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections last week (August 13(?), 2012. The attorneys for Terrance Williams asked me to let you know that the Inquirer had been running a photograph, in conjunction with a news story on August 10 and an editorial on August 15, that was not the Terrance Williams who is currently under warrant of death in Pennsylvania.

HIS MUG SHOT makes him look like a teddy bear.

His rap sheet makes him out to be a grizzly.

Terrance Williams, 46, is guilty of murder. Two murders, in fact. The 26-year death-row resident is no falsely accused choirboy, and he will die.

But he will not die Wednesday.

Friday morning, Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina allowed Williams' first-degree murder conviction to stand but vacated his death sentence.

Friday afternoon, District Attorney Seth Williams filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court to overrule Sarmina. In theory, the Supreme Court could act before Wednesday to reinstitute the death penalty and make Williams maggot bait. There's a better chance the Eagles will win the Super Bowl this season.

While this death-penalty case doesn't give off the scorching heat of Mumia Abu-Jamal's, which jurists dodged like the avian flu, the easiest thing for the Supremes would be to let Sarmina's order stand, meaning the D.A. will have to present all the evidence, again, to a new jury seated to choose either the death penalty or life without parole.

And "all the evidence" this time will mean "all the evidence." Sarmina said the prosecution suppressed evidence that might have mitigated some of Williams' guilt in the eyes of enough jurors to get a life sentence instead of death.

At a news conference Friday afternoon, Williams fiercely defended three things: 1) his office, although the case was tried before he was even there; 2) the prosecutor, Andrea Foulkes, as hard-working and diligent; 3) his decision to push for death, which he said comes not from ghoulish glee but from his view of justice. Standing before the TV cameras reading from a prepared statement, he said that although he wants the death penalty to be used sparingly, this case demands it.

The facts of the case have been in the papers for weeks, with many editorials calling for the death penalty to be dropped. There is no question about his guilt. There is no O.J. Simpson SODDI defense - Some Other Dude Did It.

There is also no question that the killer lied on the stand in both his murder trials. In the first - also prosecuted by Foulkes - he was convicted only of third-degree homicide, largely because of jury sympathy for his background of poverty and abuse, according to an observer who has my respect. The same person believes that in the second murder trial, Foulkes wanted to quash evidence that might tug on jurors' heartstrings.

Judge Sarmina, a former city prosecutor who is no dewy-eyed sap, believes that's what happened.

I am for the death penalty, but only when we are certain the accused committed coldblooded murder. Another stipulation is that the prosecution must play by the rules. The D.A.'s role is to secure justice, not just convictions.

There is, at least, strong suspicion that the D.A.'s office broke the rules. If so, sadly, that wouldn't be a first. It happens more often than we would like.

If you believe in justice, you can't allow prosecutors to put their thumbs on the scales. Some of you are thinking the defense does that all the time, and you are right. But the defense represents an individual; the D.A. represents the state - you and me.

The state is obligated to have clean hands, even if it means allowing a scumbag killer to elude the execution he earned.

 


Contact Stu Bykofsky at stubyko@phillynews.com or 215-854-5977. Join Stu on Facebook. For recent columns, go to philly.com/Byko.

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