Judge Stays Terry Williams’ Execution
by Stephen Lendman
A previous article discussed Terry’s fight for life. He was scheduled to die on October 3. Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina spared him for now. More on her ruling and what’s next below.
Terry was raised violently. His mother abused him physically and emotionally. She beat him mercilessly for any reason. She used fists, belts, extension cords, switches, anything she could get her hands on.
His siblings got similar treatment. His clemency petition recounted one incident his half-sister Theresa described:
“One time my mother poured hot boiling water on me when I was a toddler. I remember being in the hospital after my mother burnt me. The nurses would put white towels on the floor and try to help me walk.”
“I would look behind me and see my own bloody footprints on the towels. For a long time after I got out of the hospital, layers of skin would peel off my feet when my mother bathed me.”
Terry’s mother (Pat Kemp) beat him at home and at school. His elementary school classmates and teachers recalled one incident. On a flight of stairs, she “wail(ed) on him as hard as she could.”
She beat him on the head and back. He tried putting his arms up for protection. He begged her to stop. She ignored him. Blood flowed freely from areas struck.
At age 10, his mother married Ernest Kemp. He was alcoholic and violent. His older siblings, Theresa and Thomas, fled home to escape. Terry was alone. He’d hide in his room. He locked his door. Ernest broke through and beat him. No one was there to help.
At age 6, an older boy raped him. So did a former teacher and another older man. He was raped multiple times for years. He was traumatized. He lived in constant fear. He suffered terribly. He turned to alcohol, drugs, and self-mutilation to cope.
His lawyer said years of “unrelenting abuse and neglect made (him) an easy target for sexual predators.” They took full advantage.
He never got counseling or other supportive help. Instead, people he turned to abused him. Tragedy resulted. At age 16, he was convicted on burglary charges.
He was interned at a juvenile detention center. Two older males gang raped him. He said he “always felt that just around the corner someone might be coming.” He had nowhere to hide or anyone to turn to for help.
At age 17, he struck back. Rage overwhelmed him.
He killed one of his abusers. He stabbed Herbert Hamilton multiple times to death. He got 27 years imprisonment on third-degree murder charges.
Sexual abuse expert David Lisak said he “suffered a succession of sustained traumas over the course of his childhood….” They “utterly undermined his development” and affected his behavior.
The way he killed Hamilton reflected “desperat(ion and) rage that (he) was increasingly feeling towards all of the men who had exploited, abused, and raped him over the course of his life.”
At age 18, he killed Amos Norwood. He raped Terry multiple times. He directed a Youth Theater Fellowship. He also led acolytes (alter boys) at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. He took full advantage. Terry was one of many children he raped.
He did so violently. He’d pin Terry down, hit him in the face with his belt, and bite his ears. Over time, beatings worsened. On June 10, 1984, the day before Terry killed him, Norwood violently assaulted him. He drove him to an isolated unlit parking lot. Terry described what happened as follows:
“He made me lean against his car and he penetrated me from behind….He was rough….I felt hurt and mad because he was rough with me that night. He forced himself into me. I told him to stop. He kept on. I was clenching my anus so tight trying to stop him, but he wouldn’t stop, and it hurt so bad I screamed.”
At home, his underwear was bloodstained. The next day, he was still in pain. His anger built steadily for months. He described how he felt, saying:
“I was very angry and very scared, and I just snapped. I wanted him to feel the pain that he made me feel. I couldn’t think clearly. I felt such anger and betrayal at everyone who used me and betrayed me. I couldn’t think of anything else.”
His lawyer called his first 18 years devastating for his psychological and emotional development. Those years “were nothing short of tragic.”
“He was physically (and emotionally) abused by his mother and stepfather and was raped and sexually assaulted repeatedly by adults who should have protected him.”
Over time, he became confused, conflicted, scared and enraged. Years of abuse took its toll. The juvenile center gang rape incident traumatized him further.
He suffered nightmares about being raped or attempts to do it. He awoke in “utter terror.” He became increasingly broken, withdrawn, and angry.
Lisak said “the violence and abuse (he) suffered was so severe, and so sustained, that I would not expect any child subjected to such unrelenting trauma to emerge without severe and long-lasting psychological damage.”
He suffered from PTSD, borderline personality disorder, and major depression. At age 44, he still has secondary PTSD symptoms, constant anxiety, uneasy sleep, and nightmares.
As a high school senior, his behavior was erratic. He’d scream and yell for no reason. He was paranoid. He thought everyone was out to get him. At night, he’d cry himself to sleep. He thought he was someone no one could love or respect.
On the day he killed Norwood, he was three and a half months past his 18th birthday. Legally he was an adult subject to the death penalty if convicted and so ordered.
Lisak said the killing was caused by his acutely traumatized state. Fear, terror and rage built up for years. Norwood’s death resulted. So did Hamilton’s months earlier.
On September 17, Williams’ clemency plea was denied. His lawyers re-petitioned. On September 27, his second hearing was held. On September 28, the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons took his plea under advisement. It didn’t say when it would rule.
The same day, Judge Sarmina stayed his execution. She cited prosecutorial suppression of evidence. It might have persuaded jurors to spare him.
Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court will decide whether to uphold or reject her ruling. District Attorney Seth Williams denounced it. That’s what prosecutors do. They want convictions, not exonerations. They don’t like having their malfeasance exposed to public view.
Philly.com (Philadelphia Inquirer) writer Joseph Slobodzian headlined “D.A. appeals stay of Terrance William’ execution,” saying:
He wants him killed, not spared. He’ll have to wait until High Court judges decide. If they uphold Sarmina, Governor Tom Corbett “would have to sign a new warrant setting a new execution date.”
“It’s virtually new terrain for the Supreme Court and governor.” Since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, Pennsylvania only executed three prisoners.
They did so after “individuals gave up appeals and asked to die.” The last one put to death was in 1999. “The last contested execution in which last-minute appeals were an issue for the state Supreme Court and governor was in 1962.”
On September 28, attorney Shawn Nolan issued a statement following Sarmina’s ruling. In part he said:
“On behalf of Terry Williams, we are extremely pleased that Judge Sarmina….vacated the death penalty based on misconduct by the prosecution….The Philadelphia District Attorney should stop appeal(ling) and stop fighting to have Terry executed.”
Attorney General Seth Williams had detailed evidence of how Terry was abused for years. He and his assistants concealed “critical evidence from jurors and continued hiding it for 28 years.”
Sarmina found that he “played games and took unfair measures to win.”
Nolan expressed confidence that High Court judges won’t overturn her ruling. It’s “well-reasoned” and accurate based on clear evidence.
He’s also “hopeful that Governor Tom Corbett and the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons will now grant clemency in light of Judge Sarmina’s decision and the significance of” prosecutorial malfeasance.
Previous Attorney General Linda Kelly “voted in favor of clemency. Surely, after considering new evidence, they will not allow this execution to go forward.”
A previous article said clemency isn’t good enough. If granted, he’ll be spared execution by lethal injection. He’ll still face life imprisonment without parole. It’s hard deciding what’s worse – a living death or the real thing.
Terry endured torment from age six. Aren’t 38 years enough? 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
As of April 2012, nearly 3,200 US prisoners are on death row. California, Florida and Texas are top ranked. Pennsylvania is number four with 204 sentenced to die. Most nationwide are Black or Hispanic.
Many were wrongfully convicted. Rarely do any get second chances. While heading Northwestern University’s Medill Innocence Project, Professor David Protess and teams of students uncovered 13 wrongful death penalty convictions. One was just hours from execution.
In 2000, their work got then Illinois Governor George Ryan to declare a capital punishment moratorium. On January 11, 2003, two days before leaving office, he cleared death row.
He commuted sentences for 163 men and four women to life in prison. He extended a moratorium on future executions. In March 2011, Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation prohibiting them henceforth. He did so saying it’s impossible “to create a perfect, mistake-free death penalty system.”
Protess’ landmark work created a media and university firestorm. It unfairly led to his dismissal. He literally was suspended by email with no explanation. Doing the right thing got him fired. In the process, he rattled powerful cages.
Prosecutors, judges, and other state and local officials don’t like being held to account. Dirty linen goes with their territory. They want it buried and forgotten. Protess revealed what they wanted concealed.
His treatment constituted textbook academic lynching. His distinguished work deserved praise, not denigration and banishment.
He now heads the Chicago Innocence Project (ChIP). He continues his non-profit investigative work. Its mission statement explains:
“The Chicago Innocence Project investigates cases in which prisoners may have been convicted of crimes they did not commit, with priority to murder cases that resulted in sentences of death or life without parole.”
“We involve college students, community residents, private investigators and journalists in the reporting process.”
“We do not represent clients in criminal cases, but after our investigation is completed, outside counsel may bring new evidence of innocence to court.”
“Our fundamental goal is to expose and remedy wrongdoing by the criminal justice system.”
Isn’t that what judicial fairness is supposed to be? In America and too often elsewhere in so-called democracies, it falls woefully short.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled “How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.