Pennsylvania’s highest court this week denied a motion for emergency relief that had
been filed by prosecutors relating to an inmate’s execution that has been temporarily stayed by a judge in Philadelphia.
The state Supreme Court denied prosecutors’ motion in a one-page per curiam order filed the afternoon of Oct. 3, the very day the execution was scheduled to be carried out.
Terrance Williams, currently housed at a correctional facility in Greene County, would have been the first death row inmate to have been executed since infamous North Philadelphia torture-murderer Gary Heidnik received a lethal injection back in 1999.
Heidnik, who was put to death for raping and murdering women in his North Philly rowhome that was dubbed the “House of Horrors,” and two other convicted murderers have been the only three people put to death in Pennsylvania since the United States Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976.
Williams would have been number four.
Last Friday, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina stayed Williams’ execution over allegations that the trial prosecutor back in 1986 withheld critical information from the jury – that Williams had been sexually molested by his victim before the man’s murder, according to local news reports.
Williams was an 18-year-old college freshman when he was convicted of murdering Amos Norwood, 56, in 1984.
He was subsequently sentenced to death.
Sarmina had determined there was merit in the claims that the trial court jury was never informed of the molestation that occurred between Norwood and Williams.
Media reports show that Williams had exhausted his state and federal appeals and that Gov. Tom Corbett had signed the inmate’s death warrant in early August.
The Philadelphia District Attorney appealed Sarmina’s ruling; the prosecutor wanted Williams’ death sentence carried out before the death warrant expired at midnight Oct. 3.
The Associated Press reported that if the execution had been carried out, Williams would have been the first person put to death by the state in 50 years who had not given up his appeals.
Williams was supposed to be taken to a prison in Centre County for the execution, but that never occurred, according to the AP, who also reported that the inmate’s attorneys voiced pleasure at the Supreme Court’s decision to halt the execution.
“He was very relieved,” federal public defender Shawn Nolan, one of Williams’ several lawyers, told the AP. “Today was a very scary day for Terry because the stay could have been lifted, and he could have been taken to Rockview and executed.”
Rockview is the state prison in central Pennsylvania that has a death chamber.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, (no relation to the inmate), told the AP that the prisoner’s appeals had tied up the court system long enough.
“I continue to believe that this defendant received an appropriate sentence and that his new claims are not true,” the prosecutor was quoted as saying. “The Supreme Court will now have the time to look at all the facts.”