Human life is sacred. Throughout its history, U.S. policy scored it. It shows horrifically in one war after another. It’s no different at home at the federal, state or local levels.
Policy makes human life cheap. Black and brown people suffer most. Institutionalized racism denigrates them. In capital crime cases, most have virtually no chance, guilty or innocent. Officials don’t care if they live or die.
America’s death penalty is barbaric. It’s the ultimate human rights violation. It’s premeditated state-sponsored murder. No true democracy would tolerate it.
U.S.-style justice is rigged to convict. Due process and judicial fairness get short shrift. America’s unwanted haven’t a chance. Innocent people get executed.
Others wrongfully get life sentences without parole. It’s hard deciding which is worse – a living death or the real thing.
In 1972, the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty. In 1976, it was reinstated. Thirty-three states exercise it. Another 17 do not, including the District of Columbia.
Since 1976, 1,307 executions were conducted. Death penalty opponents call it state-sponsored murder.
In 2002, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff said numerous wrongful ones are “tantamount to state-sponsored murder. Innocent people (are) executed who would otherwise be able to prove their innocence.”
The death penalty
In 2011, there were 43 executions. So far this year, they’ve been 30. Will Terry Williams be 31? On Oct. 3, he’s scheduled to die by lethal injection. The process often is extremely painful. It constitutes death by torture.
On Sept. 26, philly.com (the Philadelphia Inquirer) headlined, “Pa. pardons board to reconsider Williams clemency plea,” saying, his earlier plea was denied. On Sept. 27, he gets a second chance. His lawyers hope to persuade Gov. Tom Corbett to commute his death sentence to life in prison without parole.
They’ll also ask Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina for a stay. She’s “considering what defense lawyers (call) new evidence.”
In 1986, Williams was sentenced to death. Jurors did so “on misinformation.” Prosecutors claimed Amos Norwood was killed during a robbery. Defense lawyers call what happened “an act of rage based on Norwood’s sexual abuse of Williams from age 13 until the 1984 killing.”
“The defense also contends the prosecutor withheld from the jury that she had promised Marc Draper, Williams’ admitted accomplice, a recommendation to state parole officials if he pleaded guilty and testified that the Norwood killing occurred during a robbery.”
Draper testified that “he felt duped when he learned his guilty plea resulted in a life prison term without parole.”
Prosecuter Andrea Foulkes denounced his recantation. Last week, she called it a lie. City prosecutors said Williams’ claims of sexual abuse were raised in 1998.
A federal appeals court spurned him. What did they care if another black man lived or died. State and local prosecutors feel the same.
Execution, abuse and Terry Williams
On Sept. 17, Williams’ attorneys petitioned the state pardons board for clemency. They collected more than 300,000 supportive signatures.
They included more than two dozen child advocates, five former jurors, 22 former prosecutors and judges, 34 law professors, 40 mental health professionals, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput and concerned individuals and organizations.
In a letter child advocates sent Gov. Corbett, they said, “The evidence in this case is clear. There can be no doubt that Terry was repeatedly and violently abused and exploited as a child and teenager by manipulative older men.”
“Terry’s acts of violence have, alas, an explanation of the worst sort: enveloped by anger and self-hatred, (he) lashed out and killed two of the men who sexually abused him and caused him so much pain.”
Mamie Norwood also provided an affidavit. She’s the victim’s 75-year old widow. She wants justice, not vengeance, saying, “I have come to forgive Mr. Williams. It has taken me many years. I want his life spared, and I do not want him executed. I am at peace with my decision, and I hope and pray that my wishes will be respected.”
The clemency petition provided graphic details of childhood rape and abuse. Raised in poverty and chaos, Williams had a physically abusive mother.
At age six, he was raped by an older boy. One of his teachers wooed him with food, clothes, a bicycle and rides to schools. He later began raping him.
As a teenager, so did two older men. They used their influence as a church leader and sports booster for easy access to young boys.
Williams’ attorney didn’t meet with him until the day before trial. He didn’t investigate facts in the case. He never told jurors how he was repeatedly abused. Several now say if they knew the whole truth, they would have voted for life imprisonment, not death.
Five pardons board members considered Williams’ plea. They voted three to two for clemency. State law requires unanimity. In a Sept. 18 letter, his lawyers asked for reconsideration.
At issue is how Assistant District Attorney Thomas Dolgenos answered a question posed by pardons board member Harris Gubernick.
He questioned “the validity of Williams’ claim that the prosecutor in (his) trial had promised to help Draper get parole if he testified against Williams.”
According to defense lawyer Shawn Nolan, Dolgenos said “the federal courts had heard and rejected that allegation. That is simply false.”
Gubernick and Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley rejected clemency. No board member explained reasons why.
On reconsideration, a majority only is needed. Maybe Williams has a chance to live.
Tried as an adult
Terrywilliamsclemency.com has information on his case. He’s been on death row for a crime committed three and a half months after his 18th birthday.
Youths under age 18 are considered minors. In Roper v. Simmons (2005), the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against the death penalty for crimes committed under age 18. Citing Eighth Amendment protection from cruel and unusual punishment, they called doing so unconstitutional.
Williams and Draper (both teenagers at the time) killed Amos Norwood. At age 17, Williams also killed Herbert Hamilton. He and Norwood sexually abused him for years. As a minor, he got 27 years on third-degree murder charges. From age six, other older males also abused him.
It traumatized him. It led to two deaths. Some killings constitute justifiable homicide. Perhaps Williams qualifies. Some battered wives plead it successfully.
The legal dictionary calls it “killing without evil or criminal intent, for which there can be no blame, such as self-defense to protect oneself or to protect another, or the shooting by a law enforcement officer in fulfilling his/her duties.”
“This is not to be confused with a crime of passion or claim or diminished capacity which refer to defenses aimed at reducing the penalty or degree of crime.”
The Criminal Law Lawyer Source calls it killing “without malice or criminal intent. When a person commits a justifiable homicide, they are not guilty of a criminal offense.”
Homicide can be considered justifiable if “committed in self-defense, the defense of others, while trying to prevent a serious crime and in the line of duty.”
Guilty police and other security officers usually get off. Deserving black youths or adults stand little chance.
A self-defense case?
Brown v. United States (1921) was a landmark self-defense case. The Supreme Court ruled for petitioner. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the majority opinion, saying “(d)etched reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.”
Armed self-defense in capital cases is legal. Is it less so defending against multiple rapes? Williams’ abuse continued throughout adolescence. One of his abusers was his former teacher. It conflicted him enough to commit self-mutilation acts.
Dr. David Lisak is a nationally recognized child sexual abuse expert. On behalf of Williams he said, “Terry Williams suffered a succession of sustained traumas over the course of his childhood that utterly undermined his development and were directly related to the crimes for which he is now incarcerated.”
“His mother brutally abused him, both physically and emotionally, and so damaged (him) that he desperately sought the attention and approval of an older male, someone who could replace the father he never knew.”
“His desperate need was a vulnerability that drew sexual predators to him. From the age of six, Terry was systematically abused and sexually assaulted by a succession of sexual predators, including one of his teachers.”
“He felt intense shame and disgust, and loathed himself. And over time, some of that hate began to turn towards the men who (were) preying on him.”
Williams never got counseling or other supportive help. Instead, people he turned to, abused him.
Tragedy resulted. His life now hangs in the balance. At age 44, he’s been tormented and abused since age six. Aren’t 38 years of hell enough? He deserves more than clemency.
He deserves professional counseling, support, love, care and release when able to cope on his own.
Odds for a black man getting this type justice are virtually nil. Jim Crow prosecutors and judges prefer throwing the book at them. Doing so increases their advancement prospects.
A final comment
On Sept. 28, the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons decided only to take Williams’ clemency under advisement. It didn’t say when it would rule.
On Oct. 3, he’s scheduled to die. Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina will decide whether or not to grant him a stay. As of Sept. 28, he remains in limbo. His life literally hangs in the balance.