This afternoon, I sat in the Supreme Court court room in the capitol building in Harrisburg to listen to a hearing requesting clemency for Terry Williams. Every seat was filled and a few were left standing. At least two clergy stood with their ears pressed to the outside of the door after being denied entry because the security officers said that the room couldn't hold any more people.
The last time I attended a hearing of the Board of Pardons, there were over a dozen people asking for pardons for various offenses that had happened years and even decades, ago. Each supplicant had his or her attorney and witness to testify. On that day, the court room was not even 2/3 full. That should give you a sense of how large the room is.
Terry's attorney framed the case. He listed the mitigating factors, such as, physical abuse beginning in infancy, sexual molestation and repeated rapes by older men beginning at age 6, the self-mutilation Terry used to escape from his unimaginable pain. He talked about the fact that the jury did not know that a sentence of life in prison meant that Terry would never be eligible for parole. He reviewed the evidence which has just been discovered, that a co-conspirator who testified against Terry was told to lie about the motive for the killing in exchange for a lighter sentence. I knew these facts before I entered the court room so I was prepared emotionally for the summary. What I was not prepared for was the shocking testimony of the expert on sexual abuse of boys and its impact on adult men. He shared only some of what he learned after multiple sessions with Terry. Some of the details were so horrific he said that he would prefer not to mention them publicly, and unless asked to, he would prefer that the board refer to his written submission. As he began to share some of what Terry had suffered, several people sitting near me began to cry softly. Many in front of me lowered their heads, shaking them side to side, to try to hold themselves together. Two of them left the room.
There was more testimony from experts in the field of child advocacy, a nationally respected former warden of maximum security prisons who now trains other wardens,Vicki Schieber spoke on behalf of the victim's widow and expressed that Mrs. Norwood had forgiven Terry and that she did not want him to be executed. Although Vicki was the only one to testify, based in part on her experience as the mother of her daughter who was killed in Philadelphia, there were other murder victim's family members in attendance. They were all there to show support for clemency for Terry.
The prosecution, during its presentation, said that they had just reached another relative of Mr. Norwood's the day before the hearing. A member of the board asked if this family member had come to testify of if she had submitted anything in writing. It was clear that the Attorney General was not happy with statements made at the hearing that were based on a single phone conversation with a woman whose identity had not been verified. The prosecution called no witnesses.
After deliberations the board members came back to the court room and stated their votes. Three members of the board, notably including the Pennsylvania Attorney General, voted in favor of clemency. Two voted against. In PA, the vote to recommend clemency to the governor must be unanimous. Still, that vote reflects why this is such a clear case for clemency. Even with a conservative Board of Pardons, more than half of them voted for clemency.
The fight to save Terry's life is not over. I urge Governor Corbett to grant clemency and the District Attorney to withdraw the death warrant. The death penalty is reserved for the "worst of the worst." This man, who suffered so much at the hands of his abusers, does not fit that description. Yes, he killed. The men he killed were his rapists. To paraphrase one of the witnessed, f the same killings were done by a woman who had been repeatedly raped, we would not be here. He's right. As a society we are still so squeamish about the topic of sexual abuse of boys that we would prefer to pretend it doesn't happen. It does, just like it did to the boys at Penn State, just like the boys victimized by Catholic priests, and just like it did to Terry.
Please join the victim's widow, victims' advocates, former judges and prosecutors, all of the Pennsylvania Bishops and the Archbishop of Philadelphia, and the over 350,000 others to demand justice. Demand clemency for Terry Williams.